Several weeks ago, at the utopian Form Arcosanti festival in Arizona, I watched Son Lux, a Brooklyn three-piece who play what could be called “math pop” — precise, angular, surprising compositions that are alternately funky and operatic — perform a radiant, cathartic set. Their incredible talent as musicians and performers easily made them one of the highlights of a deeply stacked lineup that weekend.
Last night, the band closed out their several-months-long tour with a set at Williamsburg’s intimate, visually striking National Sawdust concert hall. Unfortunately, this final bow was lacking in comparison to their astonishing showing in the desert. The intervening weeks had clearly taken a toll on frontman Ryan Lott, who started Son Lux as a solo project. He uses his voice with as much precision as his bandmates, Rafiq Bhatia and Ian Chang, play their guitar and drums, respectively, and Lott’s performance (his endearing tics include applauding his own songs and playing air guitar) is the centerpiece of their act. But it became clear not long into their set at National Sawdust that his voice and energy weren’t at their peak. He coughed occasionally from the stage and wasn’t able to hit many of his songs’ transcendent high notes. It was frustrating to see such talented artists unable to do justice to their creations, especially in such a good venue.
That’s not to say the show wasn’t enjoyable. The band’s impossibly tight playing and unconventional song structures create a suspenseful, simmering energy, sometimes tricking the audience into applauding multiple times before a tune ends. Chang is mesmerizing on the drums, where he often pulls off detailed rhythms in bizarre time signatures, building the base for Lott’s vocal and keyboard antics. Bhatia — who opened the show with his own band (which consists of Chang and bassist Jackson Hill, a frequent Son Lux collaborator) — inspires awe with guitar solos that demonstrate his aptitude for both the technical and the avant-garde, floating from shredded arpeggios to feedback noise and then back again. The setlist was predominantly drawn from Son Lux’s 2015 album, Bones, and arranged to feel like a narrative whole. The re-emergence of lyrical themes like the wordplay “This moment change is/Changes everything” gave the performance a feeling of seamlessness.
Near the show’s end, Lott paused to thank his band members and tour-mates in an emotional speech in which he let slip that Son Lux will not play in the U.S. again until 2017. It’s unfortunate that they were not at their full power for their final New York show of this year. But even weakened, Son Lux are a formidable musical force. In 2017, when we can assume they will have recovered from this round of touring, it’s not hard to imagine them taking over the world.