February 8th – Thekla
For the regular gig-goer, whose ears are weary, and chock full of “heard it all before” cynicism, it’s a rare occasion that one bears witness to what might be politely termed a (pause)… “Moment”. Yet that’s exactly what this writer was lucky enough to experience at the finale of Youth Lagoon’s Thekla show on a windswept February evening.
Something beautiful occurred, all while Storm Imogen did her best to break the old tub free from her moorings and transport its reluctant ragtag crew out into the Severn estuary. However, lets not get ahead of ourselves, good things, as they say, come to those who wait. More of that “Moment” later. First we set the scene.
Pixx, the chosen stage name of South London native Hannah Rodgers, was an inspired choice of support for Youth Lagoon’s Bristol appearance. Her modernised take on the 90’s inspired trip-hop sounds that this fair city gave birth to, suited the “batten down the hatches” atmosphere of the evening to a tee. Pixx’s short but well formed set was anchored by twinkling guitar lines, and a hazy laidback vibe that perfectly explains her being a recent addition to the always impressive 4AD Records roster.
The concoction of thoroughly modern processed beats overlaid with washes of fuggy electronics suited Pixx’s impressive vocal range. She was able to move from a deep-throated, husky hued tone to her clear higher register with apparent ease, all while her modest but effective backing band carved out sinuous Middle-Eastern inspired grooves.
If there is any criticism to make of Pixx at this early stage of her career its that too many songs blended into one, with similar tempos and structures, some moments passing over the delicate line into the shudder-inducing land of coffee table lounge music. Minor quibbles really, as Pixx has the potential to engage in much the same way that Bat For Lashes did back during her days of Fur & Gold. One to keep an eye out for then.
On to the main event – Youth Lagoon. Full disclosure; prior to this engagement I had heard bits and pieces of Youth Lagoon’s recorded output and been mildly impressed, but never given them full attention, or really taken the band into my heart. Suffice to say that I made a schoolboy error there. Turns out Youth Lagoon are right up my street.
So imagine my disappointment to discover that this current tour will be the final one for Trevor Power’s pet project, who will be calling it a day come the Summer. Quite why this band hasn’t been on more people’s radars up to now is hard to say, but the recently announced denouement to this band’s story contrived to make this evening of enchantment all the more poignant.
Youth Lagoon know their craft, and possess the ability to create deep but always emotionally uplifting soundscapes, within the boundaries of concise, tight song writing. ’17’, from their debut, with its confessional chorus of “…When I was seventeen my mother said to me “Don’t stop imagining. The day that you do is the day that you die”” was a revelation.
At this point it would be disingenuous for me not to mention the similarities between Youth Lagoon here and Mercury Rev, a band who hit their stride in the mid to late 90’s, crafting immortal, effortlessly beautiful music, sublime and full of grandeur. Youth Lagoon have these same qualities, noble and sincere. ‘Kerry’ from last year’s Savage Hills Ballroom longplayer, recorded right here in Bristol, is a triumph, full of stirring chords, and personal lyrical admissions.
Elsewhere, with ‘Again’ we’re treated to thrumming digital bass, cavernous drum hits and delicate piano chords. The tight but generous rhythm section is simple but effective throughout. This provides great contrast to the bombastic classical flourishes, and majestic, almost stately melodic developments, like those found in ‘Mute’ from second album Wondrous Bughouse.
This beguiling mixture is all topped off with what can only be described as an extraordinary, and truly unique voice. Well, perhaps “unique” isn’t quite the correct terminology, since Trevor Power’s surprisingly powerful vocals bear striking similarities to Victoria Legrand of Beach House fame. But for a fully grown man to possess such an angelic tone seems almost like an illusionist’s trick, or some form of ventriloquism, as though some shadowy figure is standing offstage throwing their voice into Power’s vicinity. Astonishing.
Example par excellence comes during the chorus of ‘Rotten Human’, where Power’s moves from his usual pure, clear voice into a death metal roar worthy of Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands, though without the questionable dance skills.
Having said that, at certain points Powers does briefly emerge from behind his bank of keyboards, running about the stage like a loon, as if in the grip of some temporary madness, shaking his curly mop of hair with glee in the strobing lights. This certainly adds to the sense of spectacle, adding a touch of dynamism to the sensory overload that is the Youth Lagoon sound.
The band itself are excellent throughout, but as may already be obvious, Powers is the draw here, the whirling dervish in the centre of an insane orchestra of the imagination. Towards the end of the encore he stands front and centre of the stage, back to the ravenous audience, flailing his arms around, conducting his band members with impish abandon; seemingly lost in total ecstatic wonderment.
As the penultimate track ‘Dropla’ concludes, a celestial fanfare with a wonderfully wonky melody, the crowd are clearly won over. What happens next is a masterstroke; the other three members of the band depart, leaving Powers alone with his keyboard. He begins to play, the simple, elegant piano chords starting gently, with the audience in hushed awe.
And here we come to the aforementioned “Moment”, as a seemingly spontaneous singalong commences, a good two thirds of the audience singing softly to themselves, to Powers, to each other. The first time the chorus comes around myself and few of those stood in the vicinity nervously glance at each other and share an awkward chuckle. The second time round no one feels awkward, and at once everyone is part of a collective conscious, nodding, or singing along together, a part of something bigger than the mere self.
It’s a rare feat indeed, especially given the fact that there was no artificial, pre-emptive “Come on guys, sing along now!” at all from the now visibly moved frontman. And that’s that. “Moment” over. We stumble blindly back into the real world, back into the messy squall that is Imogen, our heads torn asunder, but with hearts full to the brim…..
As a short postscript to this story, the next day I will go out and buy the entire Youth Lagoon back catalogue. Truly a case of making up for lost time.
Check out ‘Highway Patrol Stun Gun’ right here: