At Charleston’s Music Farm, it never matters what day of the week it is when you walk through their over-sized, barn-like doors; you always know you’re in for one hell of a show. As I embarked to the Farm on this particular Wednesday evening, I was truly in need of some invigorating Hump Day vibes to push me through the rest of my week. Folks, I can confidently proclaim that the evening’s performances delivered.
As the house music faded, the Son Lux trio assembled on the stage to open up the show. Ryan Lott, known as the stage name Son Lux, hails from New York, New York and truly exemplifies the new post-rock, trip hop style that has come out of the City in recent years. His careful juxtaposition of crashing percussion, dominant synth, and sincere vocals distinguishes his sound from fellow post-rock artists like Battles (who are also from NYC) and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Son Lux recently exploded in popularity, following John Green’s selection of the Glassnote Records artist to arrange the score for the film rendering of his book, Paper Towns.
Keeping that in mind, seeing Lott and his band assemble on the Farm’s stage stirred instantaneous excitement from the hyped up crowd. Lott crooned the lyrics to his first song, and the room became entranced by his heart-wrenching, heavy vocals. Their use of negative space between sounds and synthesized drum kit entrances elevated the indie rock substance of their lyrics into a unique, space rock vibe that completely absorbed the crowd. The accent of live drums created the effect of crashing waves that washed over the audience, very much like the percussion style classically implemented on early U2 or Sigor Ros records. As the track You Don’t Know Me began mid set, Lott opened his mouth and just let the notes fly out of his soul, implementing a new, throaty style of vocalization that reminded me of The Shin’s James Mercer, as he let his pain and regrets of being misunderstood float through the speakers and sift through the air.
Son Lux’s set closed on what was essentially a power ballad, which took the audience through the five stages of grief and loss: first, we felt Lott’s denial through the colorful clash of chords through the dark bass lines. Second, we felt his anger through the aggressive crashing of the live drum set. Third, Lott bargains with the audience as he quickly transitioned between dark synthesizer chords and the bright shakes of a tambourine. Fourth, his depression of the end of the set staggers in the air as the band went momentarily silent. And finally, we felt his acceptance as the band blasted a resolving chorus of bright chords and bright smiles. This powerful set truly set the stage for the opening act, the tUnE-yArDs.
Also hailing from the Northeast, the tUnE-yArDs quirkily represent worldbeat and lo-fi indie pop. The band comprises of New Englander vocalist, keyboardist, and ukulele player Merrill Garbus and bassist Nate Brenner, who have been accompanied on tour by two vocalists and an additional percussionist. Over the course of the band’s development, they have grazed musical genres as diverse as R&B, folk, and afrobeat through their eccentric use of percussion and chant-like vocalizations. The band set the Farm’s stage with a bold, pink backdrop adorned with large, sparkly eyes and funky accents.
Garbus and her crew each took their place on the stage dressed in bright, bold, and fun prints. Their set and members’ visual aesthetics reflected the experience they developed for a seemingly devoted and captive Charleston audience as they began to play. Heavy synth sounds enveloped the crowd, only to be permeated by Garbus’s billowing vocals. The vocalists’ discordant harmonies and slowly resolving melodies took me by surprise, as I sensed a soulful, old-school rock ‘n’ roll vibe from first few tracks in their set. Garbus planted gut-busting runs atop loud crashes of her drum kit, as if she was assembling troops for battle. The band danced with the crowd and interacted with each other through pleasantly playful body language, genuinely breaking the barrier between performer and audience member. Everyone contributed to the percussion of the songs, be it through the coordinated claps of the singing audience or the drum sticks of the back-up vocalists.
The band grooved on the crisp riffs of Brenner’s Rickenbacker bass, accented by a really cool integration of electro drum kits and live percussion. In a surprising and thrilling twist, Garbus picked up her ukulele and softly strummed while serving the crowd soft, Karen O-like vocals.I had never seen a ukulele played in that predominant, guitar-like fashion before, and as they performed a slowed cover of David Bowie’s Rebel, Rebel, the reverb of their pedals joyfully bounced off the walls of the Farm.
The new wave, doo wop vocal twist in the next portion of their set exhibited genre-bending like I had never seen before, shocking even the most evidently dedicated fans in the room. After seeing this performance, there is truly no box or conformed musical label to assign to the tUnE-yArDs, as they literally danced to the beat of their down drums.
Photographs and review by Meredith Wohl
You can listen to Meredith on her show GooOoOoOOon Squad on CisternYard Radio, Wednesdays at 8PM.