Live: GAYNGS Bring Justin Vernon, Sax Solos to the Music Hall of Williamsburg


Better than: a sax solo, by any other name

GAYNGS is not a small concept. The slow-jammin’ Minneapolis collective, led by Ryan Olson, is a rotating crew of 23 musicians that includes Zack Coulter and Adam Hurlburt of Solid Gold, rapper P.O.S. of Rhymesayers, and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Their loose, often quizzical takes on late ’80s soft rock/r&b are deceptively off-kilter (every song on Relayted, this year’s debut, was written at 69 BPM’s) and sprawling, sultry odes to who-knows-what–maybe themselves, as Olson has dubbed them “a musical super-family.”

At the Music Hall of Williamburg last night, this reunion is a hammy, joyous wink. When Olson throws down his gauntlet with a soul-splodin’ AutoTuned wail, the audience laughs. They’re in on the gimmick, as is their wont across the East River, but they still appreciate the earnest musicianship and six-deep harmonies that are, if not harmonic, at least fully endeavored. There are no less than 10 people onstage at any time, including one occasional laptop fiddler in the rear whose real role seems to be swaying like a neon inflatable man at a car dealership.

Vernon, dressed thematically to the era in a Reality Bites-style beanie and denim shirt red shades and a prepster cardigan, adds sonar falsetto whimpers to slower, pulsating spin on “The Last Prom on Earth.” Meanwhile, his Ray Banned, majestically bearded, soda jerk-sweatered ilk sway and pump fists with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s solemnity, a recurring gesture throughout the dirty funk add-odds of “The Gaudy Side of Town” and a breathy, swooning, shockingly sincere (but still Ray Banned/bearded) cover of Sade’s “By Your Side.”

Oh, and there are sax solos. So many of them, from smirking Andrew Bird session player Michael Lewis. But by the time he slips into the breakdowns, without fail, the defiantly silly melee of each falsetto-spiraling groove has softened into something believably sweet, even somewhat affecting. It doesn’t even matter that Vernon may have been slipped drugs onstage by the computer twiddler. (Or was it a lozenge? Suspicious gestures abounded between them.) Or that there’s a tweenage boy singing back-up in the foreground, or that the drummer’s suddenly wearing a Mexican wrestling mask, or even that outside, MHOW marquee reads “GAGNYS.” It is forced sensibility to us, second nature to them.

Critical bias: Bearded men with Ray Bans looks like Furbies.

Random quote: “Just because it’s AutoTuned doesn’t mean it’s not

Notebook dump: That inexplicable 12-year-old boy seems really, really
into Sade.

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