Friday, March 23
Better than: Sitting at home crying into my beer over my failure to score Fiona Apple tickets.
Today, bands are offered infinite opportunities for attention; given the right combination of talent and virality, an obscure 18-year-old bedroom musician might wake up one morning to find she’s headlining the Fader Fort. But as the many who’ve faltered on this path (cough, cough, Salem) are all too aware, in order to hold a fickle public’s interest, you must also do the legwork of putting faces to MP3s, live performances to YouTube videos. You must, as they say, “live up to the hype,” or risk turning into the kind of meme you’d probably rather not be.
The internet-savvy, Montreal-based weirdo-popster Grimes (a.k.a. Claire Boucher) has been at this for a few years now, but her third full-length Visions has generated a fair amonunt of interest. She’s understandably been kicking it into overdrive, with SXSW engagements that read like a trendy millennial’s RSS feed (Spotify, Pitchfork, Urban Outfitters, Filter, a “secret” headlining set at an out-of-the-way warehouse party that was nigh impossible to get into) and several Northeast dates this month. Despite how she might sound on her albums, Boucher is not some sort of magical computer sprite; she’s a 24-year-old made of flesh and blood. So it was unsurprising that when she took the stage at Mercury Lounge for the first of three sold-out New York shows this weekend, she seemed a little worn down.
“Hi, I’m Grimes; thanks for coming. I’m sick and I’ve been puking all day, so if I miss notes and my voice sucks, that’s why.”
From the beginning, she seemed frustrated by the nagging thought that she might not give her best performance. “This is a note I can’t hit, but I need to hit it!” she said at one point, backing up to try again. But as everyone in attendance quickly found out, Grimes at her draggiest is still more fun to watch than many bands at their best, and her eagerness to please only further endeared her to the crowd of glittery club kids.
Boucher’s blend of synth-pop is held together by her pretty, ethereal voice, which retains its puckish personality even as she loops and layers it. Flanked by a phalanx of electronics (and a band to help play them), the slight, green-haired creature flipped her Madonna ponytail, jumped around spastically, hovered over her processors like a monster guarding its lair, and played an impressive amount of her keyboard parts live. As Tinkerbell-ish points of light swirled on the ceiling, I couldn’t help thinking that Grimes is what seapunk might sound like, if seapunk were actually good.
Boucher’s focus on the tension between human and machine—she calls one song “Be A Body”—seemed particularly fitting on Friday. Like many electronic musicians before her, she explores what it means to live in a completely wired world. But although there’s an undercurrent of darkness there, Boucher’s vision is less “scary dystopia” and more “sexy robot dance party.” I just hope she remembers to call her mother back in Vancouver sometimes, because I don’t think she’s kidding on the ridiculously catchy “Oblivion” when she sings: “I need someone else/ to look into my eyes and tell me, ‘girl, you know you gotta watch your health.'”
Critical bias: I tend to have a visceral distaste for anything that sounds too much like rave music.
Overheard: “This! This is my song!”—A girl dancing down in front, to her friend, when set closer “Nightmusic” began.
Random notebook dump: Girl, do not let them goad you into doing an encore. (She didn’t.)
Symphonia IX (My Wait is You)
Be a Body