Posted by: Necci – Oct 10, 2012
Normally when one attends a show, especially a sold-out show, one expects a line, or at least a clutter of people, by the time doors open. Well, at 5:55 in NW DC outside U Street Music Hall, I found myself casually leaning on a railing with three other people, enjoying the rush hour passers-by. After the few of us got downstairs into the club, I saw the problem brought to my attention on a few different occasions by a few different people--unless you’re taller than most, or within 20 feet of the stage, you probably can’t see who’s on it. With no slope to the venue at all and a stage not even two feet tall, the narrow hall (at least they can say they told us) is not ideal for performers with any sort of visual message. However, hardly twenty people gathered for the opening Myths, so finding a view was easy.
The female duo lamented during their set about how very odd it felt to be playing so early. Indeed, the initial tiny turn-out might’ve swelled for a later spot--or, more likely, a wider space. But their electric dayglo tatters of outfits and banshee vocal interplay ended up getting plenty boisterous after a hesitant start. The beats were very dark and sinister, and in a new-age Goth-y way their shrieks and shouts were very direct and effective. Between songs, an audience member called out half the group for not dancing and almost instantly, the challenge was met. It seemed that by the time they had us (maybe twenty-five by now?) engaged, their raucous time was up. And then came Elite Gymnastics.
A performer by himself, he took the stage under soft blue lights with flowers all about and sang us a Spice Girls cover. Now, I didn’t realize it until the first chorus, mind you--the song was in very somber wrappings. But by the second chorus and bridge, we’d all had a few laughs. His next piece was a bit of poetry. He inquired of us whether the art of poetry was still appreciated; I didn’t hear too much accordance from the thirty-five around me. It was a stream-of-consciousness sort of work that he had written down, which ended up being a pretty amusing anecdote.
Occasionally throughout his set, he stood and walked across an electric guitar, modifying the sound further in filters and loops, he also had typical DIY rhythmic accompaniment. Perhaps he had other things going on, but like Myths, he expressed discomfort with the early evening’s situation. Whatever the reason, after asking if we were uncomfortable too (to no response), said that he would probably not finish his full set. The sold-out crowd chuckled. And there went Elite Gymnastics.
Grimes was scheduled to go on at 8:15, and Elite Gymnastics had stopped before the top of the hour, so by half past, we were all pretty sweaty and ready. When those lights dimmed, the surge of energy was h-u-g-e. Led onstage by the naturally dance-y half of Myths and followed by the other, Claire Boucher had the room and the whole nation’s capital in her interstellar palm. Although not quite punctually, the tight twine pulse of “Symphonia IX” started off the night. Thinking that I’m more a fan of her studio capabilities, I wasn’t really sure how I’d react to her live, although I’ve certainly watched most of her live YouTube content. Seeing Grimes for the first time, I immediately saw the real spirit of her intention as an artist.
The songs we heard were laid bare of most of their myriad vocal overdubs; she was left to maintain your interest in moments when that postproduction is missing. If that postproduction is where your interest lies, she’ll keep you interested through her visual image onstage, as well as her improvisations and energetic performance. And if you’re not there for the perfect crafted studio replication, may your heart be, see, and know--for the live lyrics can be discerned, melodies move, and structures bend. Giving us almost half of Visions and throwing in the favorite “Vanessa,” from the 2011 Darkbloom EP, was as much as any fan of Grimes's last year could want. Also very enjoyable was the club track where she just set out and improvised on a wild house vibe. “Genesis” eclipsed earlier single “Oblivion” in both decibel and physical reaction from the crowd, which I’m sure has to do with the almost 3 million views the self-directed music video has brought her. This was to my personal delight, as I think “Genesis” is a better song, and I’m fearful that “Oblivion” has already irreversibly achieved annoying single status. Both are both fluid and choppy, and oh-so-universally danceable.
Losing my shit dancing to “Circumambient” live had been a dream of mine for about six months, and the ruthless punkiness and razor-sharp rhythm inside its cavernous sonic depths were the danger and abandon that let me lose it movin’ for those frantic five minutes. “Be A Body,” to which instruction I paid heed all night (just ask my sopping shirt), is something of a swansong for Visions, and Grimes certainly was amped up on conveying this. Bending down and folding behind her keyboard at times, arms everywhere, legs ever a’gallop, she connected and filled all the disjointed angles and shapes of her music with her own movements. As a former ballet dancer, the value she places on musical intimacy in motion is as evident in her songs’ propulsiveness as it is in her own physical delivery.
At this point in her career path, Grimes is also comfortable to the point of discomfort with the Visions material. It certainly lets us enjoy a very confident show, but one that is itching to move on. Her magnetism and--let’s face it--her hype are big… really big. So when you see her twisting and bending and moving in her own way to her own music with her own voice, it’s really an awesome affirmation of what you've heard in that music. If you’re into what she’s doing, she delivers.
Whether the crowd decided to miss the first two acts, or maybe got stuck at work or in traffic, the fact that most arrived too late to see the openers is still a bit telling of how the community feels about supporting the artists. Once the place filled up, the number of hostile flare-ups over personal space that occurred ten feet from the stage at a sold-out show were several and dumbfounding. But even as divisive and polarizing as she and her art can be, Grimes brought us all together in a cheering, fantastic mass of people.
I think that if she stays her current course, she will please more and more new fans. The most recent issue of Rolling Stone placed her into a list of contemporary go-getters--Grimes appears in the bubble for “Outer Limits- where restless artistic innovators explore strange new worlds." Earlier this year, when asked by legendary Canadian radio interviewer Nardwuar why people should care about Grimes, she called her work "the future of music--futuristic music." Well, if that future comes knocking at our door, with her at the helm of some sort of spaceship… I’m in.
By Daryl Tankersley