February 2, 2012: Washington, DC
Does a good show require more than sonic entertainment? Maybe not, but a great one might. I'm referring to the visual entertainment that seems to be a more and more common pairing for today's musicians. Backdrops of eye candy that match the music and help set a mood can really bring something extra to a show. (Sure, when done poorly, they can also produce a rather embarrassing outcome.)
There's probably also a camp of "purists" that don't want any visual mumbo jumbo because it's a distraction or compensation for some kind of musical or stage weakness. On that criticism, I can only think of Hollywood's current doll, The Artist, when the main character and silent film star balks at the idea that the "big screen" would ever need dialouge to improve it. Of course, Hollywood did need dialouge and once it entered the art form, there was no turning back. Music may be going through such a transition more slowly, but it's happening nonetheless.
While no where near the first (Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Cornelius, and Pink Floyd come to mind among hundreds of others), Tycho is definitely an artist that is helping to push this transition forward. Last night's show at the Rock and Roll Hotel proved to be a great sonic and visual experience. The visual course of the meal helped reinforce the connection I make between Tycho and Boards of Canada. The video projections looked as inspired by the latter as the music, particularly treatments that reminded me of the cover of BOC's Geogaddi. Tycho definitely has his own style though, with lots of montages of vintage-looking surf videos, natural landscapes, and pyschadelic color treatments. I might call it video in the style of Instagram.
Still, with all there was to the video, the music ruled the night. This wasn't a laptop led experiene. Certainly there was no shortage of effects, but in the end it was a trio that made the music with lots of traditional instruments--electric guitars and a bass, an acoustic guitar, a drum kit, and plenty o' synths. The set really was top notch and they did a great job of building into a very dance worthy set. I reached down for my cell phone at least 5 times during this show, not because I needed to tweet or update my Facebook status, but because I thought it was ringing. Actually, it was just Tycho's deep bass. From the best I can tell, the set covered most of Dive and a good share of Past is Prologue.
Picking at the edges, it would have been nice to see a little improvisation--maybe an extended version of a song or two--but Tycho chose to stay true to his recorded versions. My biggest criticisms would probably be aimed at the R&R Hotel. The space is intimate, but could easily be improved to make shows more enjoyable. We stood about 3/4 of the way back and I could barely see at the start of the set--I didn't even realize there was a drummer and kit on stage. Certainly, our less tall but prettier companions could see even less. How about engineering a mild rise to the floor? For a visual show like it was, this was more critical than ever. Fortunately, the audience settled and even thinned by about 1/2 way through the set, making it easier to see from the back and easier for the ladies to push forward. At the end, the smiles on people's faces suggested near unanimous enjoyment.