Better than: One of your livelier dinner parties.
“I hope we gave you guys a good start to the night. Thank you for coming. Now go out and have some fun,” said Sharin Foo, the female half of the dark, Danish pop-rock duo The Raveonettes, after closing out a sleepy set at Webster Hall on Friday night. It was an odd statement, suitable for a concert that, while perfectly enjoyable, ended up feeling like a warm-up act for the main event of a weekend in New York City.
This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it was surprising. The Raveonettes are a terrific band, and after six albums and a decade of touring, one would expect they conceive of themselves as a headliner, as the reason to leave one’s home on a Friday night, as the experiential zenith of the weekend. Not as some kind of ultra-cool, ultra-light appetizer.
But perhaps the crowd, (multi-generational, multinational, overwhelmingly polite) wasn’t expecting a raucous emotional release. The night kicked off with the darling Melody’s Echo Chamber, a breezy four-piece fronted by the band’s single permanent member, French singer Melody Prochet.
Prochet is a brunette sprite with a warbling, diaphanous voice, who dances reservedly, waving her hands and shaking her long hair back and forth during each and every song. Those songs are wonderfully pleasant, dream-pop studies with roughed-up psychedelia murmuring softly from the sidelines. Prochet is a protégé of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, and the influence of the Australian band’s nuanced soundscapes is obvious. The newly assembled band’s pleasure at performing in front of a crowd was palpable and endearing: Prochet murmured unintelligibly, grinning like a fool in love after each and every song, both at her bandmates and at the audience, who smiled back, clearly taken with the newcomers. And though the band displayed some welcome pathos on standout “Some Time Alone,” Melody’s highly agreeable mundanity was exactly what one expects from an opener.
About 20 minutes after their set, the Raveonettes took the stage, Foo looking like a blonde, bewigged phenotype of the Svedka robot, her partner, Sune Rose Wagner, in a striped shirt with an electrified shock of pipe-cleaner curls casting a shadow over his visage. That shadow complemented the Raveonette’s lyrics perfectly. The band has mastered the trick of writing soaring pop songs with woefully melodramatic lyrics. Near every song has a keyword which one might find in abundance in the most indulgent high schooler’s black poetry: gloom, death, heartbreak, heartache, and sudden ecstasy abound.
This trick of emotionally colorful buzzwords, which would quickly become tedious in other, lesser acts, works for the duo. It works because the Foo and Wagner are so monochromatically cool and so practiced at structuring these songs that the catharsis of the perfectly engineered chorus lends actual gravity to candied lyrics.
The band breezed through high-energy singles like “She Owns the Streets,” from their latest album Observator, and “Dead Sound,” off of their masterful In and Out of Control, before slowing things down with the subtly named “Love Can Destroy Everything.” Though the song is highly effective on record, it slowed things in Webster Hall down quite a bit, and the band never really managed to regain the energy of those first few tracks.
But, as I’ve hinted, this seemed to suit a subdued crowd just fine. The steady head-nod seemed to be most fans’ preferred mode of dance, and the Raveonettes catered to these nodders. Their New York-centric song “Gone Forever” sparked clouds of weed smoke to erupt from the front of the venue and the old favorites “Love in a Trashcan” and “Attack of the Ghost Riders” got a blissed out, joyous reaction. After a perfunctory encore, Foo gave her thanks and the two left the stage, looking just about as happy to be leaving as they were to play the show.
Critical bias: I’m a Raveonettes fan, so, heightened expectations, etc. Coming in, all I knew about Melody’s Echo Chamber was their relationship to Tame Impala, so it’s no wonder that I was so convinced of the obvious influence.
Random notebook dump: When I say the crowd was multinational, I mean multinational. Right in front of me was an anxious girl from Macedonia, another from Estonia was sitting at the bar and I ended my night standing next to a couple named, respectively, Yesper and Sep.
Random notebook dump 2: Foo switched guitars between songs more than any performer I’ve ever seen.