Yeasayer, Awesome New Republic, and Washed Out at the Fillmore Miami Beach, October 5

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Photo by Ian Witlen
View photos from Yeasayer at the Fillmore Miami Beach.

Yeasayer
With Awesome New Republic and Washed Out
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
The Fillmore Miami Beach

Better Than: Staying in another night and downloading "witch haus" or whatever other new Internet-only genre threatens to supplant "chillwave"

October is upon us, which means the rapid-fire onslaught of never-thought-they-would-happen-here shows is upon us. So can Miami's indie (or whatever) fans support multiple  shows in a week, or even on the same two nights in a row? Signs point to yes, with some better personal budgeting. 

The crowd last night at Yeasayer's debut headlining Miami gig, the night before LCD Soundsystem's show at the same venue, was nowhere near capacity. It was clear that some had saved their pennies for the surefire hit in LCD, and Yeasayer's lack of easily recognizable dance party hits probably didn't help much. 

The crowd did swell to a respectable size by mid-evening, although it's clear that Miami may never be trained to arrive for on-time show kick-offs. When locals Awesome New Republic took the stage for their opening slot at 8:30 sharp, only about 50 audience members had gathered.

To the twosome's credit, though, they performed as though that were 500 or 5000, with a sweat-flinging set whose synthy sounds seriously warmed up the cavernous space. To anyone who's been around the local circuit, there weren't many surprises here. But hey, even the band's relatively ancient standards like "Kill South Beach Dead" are new to somebody, and the underage kids on the floor level seemed particularly hyped on the band's bright, bouncy sound. 

Actually, there was one surprise: how dramatically better the band happened to sound this time around. Not in actual technical skill or energy level; ANR always delivers on those fronts. But the use of a decent sound mix and P.A. made the band sound instantly tighter and more professional, begging the question: How many other local acts might instantly rise in our esteem if they had more properly equipped rooms to play?

In any event, ANR would have served well as the direct warmup act for Yeasayer themselves, since the other semi-"big" act on the bill, Washed Out, did little to ramp up the excitement. To be fair, it seems that the act, originally a one-man bedroom-type deal, was never designed to play large stages. However, thanks to Internet-fueled velocity, and some intriguingly pretty song-sketches, that's what Washed Out must now do.

To try to beef up the sound, the brains behind the operation, computer/synth jockey Ernest Greene, has turned his project into a full band, augmented by a bassist, a drummer, and another synth player/percussionist. All are talented musicians -- especially the bassist, skilled in creating a groove -- but as a band, there is very little chemistry. The players seem to focus most of their energy inward, and the fact that Greene's music is purposefully reflective doesn't help.

The bright sides: Greene now mumbles his lyrics a little less, making them almost decipherable compared to the recorded versions. With the live instrumentation, now, the songs really sound like "songs" rather than just "compositions," and when they get really going, roll along with almost an acid-housey kind of vibe. Yes, it is now possible to kind of dance to Washed Out songs. (Whether fist-pumping's appropriate is questionable, but that didn't stop a few cargo-shorted guys in the crowd  from vigorously doing so.) When Greene and company learn how to better engage with the audience and each other, then Washed Out will truly be ready for prime time. 

In contrast, Yeasayer is a much "weirder" band on the surface, and one that talks little and never resorts to cheesy crowd-rousing tactics like rhythmic clapping, yet one that is instantly more compelling as a live act. This is thanks to absolutely flawless musicianship, of course, honed through near-constant touring. But it is also thanks to the fact that the band has a clear aesthetic project, creating its own world through careful lighting and set structuring. 

For most of the evening, the band played in near-darkness, with a dramatically orchestrated light show occasionally spotlighting singers Anand Wilder or Chris Keating, or illuminating everyone from below for a slightly otherworldly look. That, combined with the twitchy, unabashed tribalism of the band's music made the show seem as though we had stumbled upon a drum circle on Pandora or something.

On its latest album, Odd Blood, Yeasayer's music can sound willfully obscure with its layers of bleeps and bloops and its chanted vocals. Live, though, the pulsing low-end comes through, with everything building up into circling, trance-like rhythms. Surprisingly, this does not wander into jam band-y noodling, and instead tempos build up through slower early set selections before blooming into bona fide dance numbers.

So yes, "ONE," the band's closest thing to a dance jam, came late in the set as expected. And yes, it provided for a joyful musical peak, although some of its technotronic calypso flavor was lost a bit, perhaps due to annoying speaker problems throughout the set. Still, this moment of near-clubby ecstasy didn't seem forced, but rather the result of a carefully orchestrated rhythmic progression. The effect was impressive, a spell that only Yeasayer itself could break a couple songs later, at the end of the show. 

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Washed Out is nearly the only act I can stand from the so-called "chillwave" genre (although to be fair, the term is often misapplied and, anyways, a total Internet creation). Otherwise I'd rather just listen to Ariel Pink or something.

The Crowd: Skewing towards college-age, with a curiously high wardrobe representation of cargo shorts and Rainbow flip-flops

Overheard in the Crowd: "Well, I guess that was better than when the Washed Out guy played with just his laptop during the last Art Basel..."

Yeasayer Set List: 

-"Madder Red"
-"Rome"
-"Wait for the Summer"
-"Tightrope"
-"Red Cave"
-"Grizelda"
-"Sunrise"
-"Mondegreen"
-"Strange Reunions"
-"ONE"
-"Ambling Alp"

Encore:
-"2080
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