By Jonah Bromwich
Better Than: a performance of The Magic Flute being interrupted by a robot invasion.
Complaining about low quality sound after the concert of an artist you like is kind of like griping about the refs after your team loses a game–if the artist is good enough, they should be able to fight through it. Baths had a lot to battle through with an uncooperative sound-system last night at Webster Hall. He eventually emerged triumphant, winning over the crowd during the course of an hour-long set with a combination of beat-based balladry and endearingly amateurish banter.
Baths is the project of Will Wiesenfeld, who came up in the beat-head Low End Theory scene in Los Angeles, but has taken a James Blake-like turn to singing-songwriting on his new album, Obsidian. Wiesenfeld is so nondescript–medium height, medium brown hair, medium build–that the crowd wasn’t quite sure it was him setting up his keyboard and soundsystem, even when he tested the system by singing in his unmistakable operatic register. After he and his band-mate for live shows, Morgan Greenwood, fiddled with the sound for about 15 minutes, they left the stage, only to return to more assured applause. Wiesenfeld opened by acknowledging his own relative anonymity in the first of many likeably humble comments
But the first song, “Worsening,” threatened that good impression. The track, which opens Obsidian, is built on the back of gently clattering handclaps and few wonky synths, which then explode into a nova of ripcord beats and falsetto harmonics. It’s a delicate balance on wax, and it simply didn’t work live, as the bass completely overwhelmed the song’s more tender touches and gaggles of less-committed concertgoers backed slowly away from the heaving speakers.
Wiesenfeld worked his way back into the crowd’s good graces with a pair of his most popular singles. “Miasma Sky” made for a powerful statement when combined with Wiesenfeld’s fantastically unselfconscious dancing and though he struggled with his headset throughout the cut “Lovely Bloodflow,” he was able to elicit the best reaction yet, with a significant portion of the crowd singing along to the favorite from his debut album.
It was a young, mostly tolerant (if not always fully-engaged) crowd, the kind of group you might expect to show up for an artist whose signature sound is still in flux (and who recently scored a Best New Music on Pitchfork). Baths veers from harsh metal to the softest of love songs, often within the course of less than a minute. His nods to Boiler Room culture in the form of bass-heavy noodling were often met with gentle confusion and “Earth Death,” which kicked off with a tremendous amount of static, caused more than a couple of grimaces.
An early Friday night show like this one often feels like an overcrowded pregame for the night ahead, but Wiesenfeld was committed to being the main event. He seemed completely confident whenever the music was going, even as, during breaks, he confessed to being “hella nervous,” a claim that manifested in his awkward little wave of acknowledgement in response to applause.
Obsidian has been billed as Wiesenfeld’s “dark album,” the recorded after his ugly bout with a bacterial infection, but his upbeat attitude, which included a shout-out to the MSNBC anchor and “most beautiful dude” Thomas Roberts, was anything but dark. Before his last pair of songs he raised his arms to the sky and proclaimed, “I’m having such a good time,” and by then, sound problems be damned, the crowd was happy to cheer along with him.
Overheard: (no less than six or seven times) “He is so adorable!”
Critical Bias: Huge fan of Baths’ first album Cerulean. Not so much of Obsidian.
Random Notebook Dump: Part of the reason Wiesenfeld was difficult to recognize was his loss of a good amount of weight, as well as a prodigious fro and some very gnarly sideburns.