Concert Review: NEON INDIAN, LEMONADE, SILENT DIANE (2012-05-08 @ The Phoenix)
Have you ever done your best to enjoy something and just not been able to? It’s heartbreaking. Unfortunately that’s what happened last Tuesday at The Phoenix as a trio of synth-pop bands from the States brought their music to Toronto.
Let me be clear here; it wasn’t all bad, and NEON INDIAN actually put on quite a good set. But I digress: let me start at the beginning.
SILENT DIANE was the first band up. They’re a two-piece consisting of female vocals/synth and bass; samples fill in the rest. They tend towards mid-tempo tunes, and their most distinctive aspect was their chest-vibrating kick drum samples.
Unfortunately for a band that is focused on moving a crowd, The Phoenix didn’t seem too receptive, bordering on indifference. The band was also a little passive, largely due to the fact that they had almost no stage space (they were surrounded by synths from the later bands). They succumbed to a common electro-act issue where it just didn’t feel “real” enough – too much of the meat of their songs were in the samples, not the live playing. That being said, when they managed to get a good drum and bassline going it was impressive, so don’t rule them out completely.
Next up was LEMONADE; this is where the story gets weird. I was immediately interested as the drummer set up a hybrid acoustic/electric standing kit in the front, complete with roto-toms and sample pads. Unfortunately, that interest was short-lived.
As soon as they launched into the first song the audience was confronted with the WORST live sound that I have ever heard at a professional gig: the vocals were completely inaudible, and the percussion samples the drummer spent most of his time triggering were so low that his sticks hitting the rubber sample pads were almost as audible as the triggered hits themselves. To quote an audience member I overheard, “It was like watching Rock Band.”
Now, I don’t want to be the cynical reviewer here – I REALLY tried to like these guys. From what I could tell through the distorted mix, they were actually quite good! They had a very interesting mix of upbeat synth-pop and non-traditional world beats, and their recorded music is excellent. However, the sound mix just could not be forgiven and the crowd spent the majority of the set talking incredulously amongst themselves. For a touring act coming through The Phoenix, it was completely unacceptable.
Needless to say, that whole affair put a damper on things and the crowd was in a weird mood before NEON INDIAN’s set. Again I was intrigued by the gear on display; in evidence were classic Simmonds drum pads and a gorgeous mini analog-synth.
The band took the stage to a dramatic opening of big ambient synth riffs and an elaborate stage set-piece complete with circuit boards, fog machines and light displays. When they finally launched into the first song, to the relief of the crowd, they had a large, full sound. The vocals were still mostly unintelligible, but the audience didn’t seem to mind and threw themselves into dancing enough to make up for the previous two acts.
There was a lot of neat stuff on display here. The second song made liberal use of a huge growling synth bass that left me shaking at my very core – in fact, the “wall of synth” effect seemed to be a common element of many NEON INDIAN songs.
Alan Palomo – the frontman and brains of the operation – made for a good entertainer, as he seemed to slink around the stage (and I mean that in the best way possible), showcasing some sweet dance moves that had the crowd smiling. The way his vocals blended with the oft-quirky music had me drawing DELOREAN comparisons.
The band played quite a long set that, unlike most acts, seemed to continually get stronger as the night went on. A highlight was Polish Girl, the band’s biggest hit and a kooky little dance number that turned the area in front of the stage into a pit.
By the end of the set the songs had definitely started to blend into each other, and a more concise set would probably serve them better, but the audience seemed to love every minute of it. I did come away from it feeling that there had been something missing that held them back from being truly memorable. That being said, it was an entertaining show and NEON INDIAN is certainly a strong young act that can only go up from here.
Photos by LIZ GARERI