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Friday, 18 October 2013

Washed Out 2013

Washed Out  |  Corona Theatre

RIDING THOSE CHILL WAVES  |  SEAN ZUMBUSCH

Washed Out is a band that I have wanted to see for quite a number of years, but due to the circumstances (namely, I used to live in a part of the country where cool American acts dared not to venture) I did not get to see them until this tour.

I remember first hearing about them as one of the founding “chillwave” acts, along with Memory Tapes and Neon Indian, as defined by Hipster Runoff, a blog that I was fond of reading for its insights into new music, fashion, and culture. Their debut EP, Life of Leisure, appealed to me for its minimal production values, soft vocals, and its general vintage and worn aesthetic. It sounded like it was a cassette tape mix of early 1980s synthpop that was left out on a car’s dash in the sun for a few hours on a hot July afternoon. It was a sound that obviously struck a chord with a lot of people, as the song “Feel It All Around” resonated with enough folks out there as a symbol of hipster youth that it became the theme song for the TV series Portlandia.

Fast forward to the present, and it appears that Ernest Greene grew tired of that aesthetic and moved to a more straightforward indie rock approach. While Washed Out’s earlier shows consisted of Ernest Greene singing over samples, he’s employed a full rock band to play the songs. Some people out there, it seems, do not care for this change. In fact, I heard from a couple of people prior to attending the show that lots of folks out there did not care for the shows on this particular tour. People found it to be hit or miss. I decided to approach the show with an open mind. 

As this was my first time at Corona Theatre, I’ll go ahead and describe it like I do with all of the other places I have been. Corona Theatre is venue whose size and crowd capacity sits somewhere between that of La Salsa Rossa and Metropolis, and so the bands that play there are generally ones that are either nationally or internationally well-known. It is a venue that goes for the appearance of an old-timey theatre, as it has the wooden balconies, curtains, and so on. It has a high ceiling, which is great for bands with more elaborate lighting. Washed Out make use of the greater amount of space well. They used rotating lights that changed color, and they placed them on tall, vertical beams on top of one another. They also strung what appeared to be white Christmas lights from the ceiling and from their synthesizers, and there was a big ball of lighted cords hung from the ceiling as well. The place was absolutely packed. 

I think Washed Out’s newer approach of using a rock band instead of samples was a good move. The guitars meshed well with the synthesizers. They mostly played songs off the last two albums, and I  think the only earlier song that they played was “Feel It All Around” from the debut EP because it is on TV and they will be stuck playing that song forever. It is their “Black Hole Sun.” It was interesting to heard all of the parts for that song arranged for a rock band, because the original recording did not employ a band whatsoever. The song itself was a slowed-down sample of the 1983 Gary Low track “I Want You” with added synthesizer pads, a drum machine, and Ernest Greene’s vocals, and so it was fascinating to see it played by a full rock band. The bass part was played live with a synthesizer, and a guitarist supplied the delayed high pitch synth hit. The song was slowed down from the recording. The songs from the last two albums, however, proceeded as they did on the recording. I liked those albums an awful lot, so this was good for me. There was much fanfare for their set, though the crowd erupted with delight when they came back on for their encore with “Eyes Be Closed” from the album Within and Without. I, too, enjoyed hearing this song played live. I walked home from this show with good feelings. It was not hit or miss, and Washed Out’s newer approach with a full band is a good move. 


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