by Erin Rioux
Saturday, August 13
Better than: Listening to The Weeknd’s record for the fourth time on repeat.
The Los Angeles-via-Brooklyn duo High Places launched into their set on Saturday night with “Year Off,” the first single off their forthcoming LP Original Colors (Thrill Jockey). The two craft kaleidoscopic beats—Mary Pearson handles lead vocals and synth duties, while Rob Barber is on drum pad and guitar—and “Year Off” is a cool, glassy exploration of the dark undertones once buried in the band’s colorful sound palette. Barber’s winding disco beat is supported by an arpeggiated-synth bassline with soft bell sounds rising over the top. Pearson’s delicate voice is beautiful when it’s audible, but it’s mostly dominated by the pounding kick drum and the snare drum decaying in echo. She stepped away from the mic, dancing gently in her what looked like a shirt-cape as Barber navigated the song in and out of a jungle break.
High Places remain focused on atmosphere more than hooks. But the idea of “atmosphere” raises a question: How does one engage an audience with electronic music? The duo’s empty gazes and less-than-passionate demeanors weren’t inviting the audience to have a good time. “The Storm,” from their self-titled LP, was met with cheers but as the band debuted new material throughout the set the crowd was left wondering if the people onstage were having a good time. Perhaps not in the strange environment of Tammany Hall, with baseball playing at the bar and the AC bringing the 350-capacity room to an uncomfortable chill.
Eight songs into the set, Barber propelled the band into “On Giving Up,” a standout from 2010’s High Places Vs. Mankind, and the show began to take off. Barber switched between his drum pad and wiry post-punk lines on his Fender Mustang. Next, the band picked up the pace with a new, uncharacteristically uptempo track that had glitchy Aphex Twin rhythms underneath the drones and Pearson’s sing-song vocals. The band closed the set with the moody, start-stop ballad “From Stardust to Sentience,” during which Barber pounded out a charged 5/4 rhythm, then paused to let Pearson’s lullaby rest amidst a sea of whirring noises. For the first time that night, I feel moved by heartfelt, urgency. An electronic band can’t neglect the human element of a good show. As much as a listener might long for modernity, the feeling of human engagement is important as well.
Critical bias: High Places’ last LP on Thrill Jockey, High Places Vs. Mankind, is one of 2010’s best.
Overheard: “She reminds me of a doll; pretty but lifeless.”
Random notebook dump: Ok, so High Places know what’s up but they need to take it there. Come on, take it THERE!