Hazy synthpop is dime-a-dozen these days, but there’s something undeniably enchanting about Canadian Claire Boucher’s one-woman Grimes project. Visions, the latest effort from the Montreal-based artist, sports hook-heavy electropop, punctuated by her elfish falsetto, and so far has received rave reviews from critics all over the globe. Crafted alone in her bedroom and pieced together in Garage Band, I wondered if these songs would hold up in a live setting. In short: They absolutely do.
An hour prior to the sold-out gig, the line had stretched around the corner. Once inside, however, the anxious fans pushed towards the stage, filling the venue within moments, and by the time opener Lady Tragik finished her set, the Echo was uncomfortably warm. Fellow Canucks (and Grimes backing band) Born Gold followed with a captivating A/V performance. Frontman Cecil Frena was decked out in a custom jacket lined with LED lights and controllers and essentially used his own body to trigger audio and visual samples. Not entirely original, but entertaining nonetheless.
Fans were whistling and catcalling from the moment Boucher started to set up her gear. She seemed a little nervous, understandably so; when Pitchfork deems your record “Best New Music” and you hit Internet mega stardom practically overnight, you would be, too, because there’s really nowhere to go but down from there. She looked absolutely beautiful, but something felt a bit alien. She’s molded herself into a bizarro world pop star, and she looked the part: Boucher arrived wearing way-too-high heels, a black beanie, a floral skirt, a skull and bones shirt underneath a red fishnet top, and an over-sized army jacket. With her blonde hair pulled into a high ponytail and cropped bangs, she looked like a younger Yo-Landi of rap-rave crew Die Antwoord, who were actually performing nearby at Club Nokia. “Only in Canada,” one guy said loudly, as several others yelled, “Marry me!”
Boucher’s stepbrother joined her onstage. “That’s my hype man,” she said, though it was clear no hype man was needed. The second she started playing the crowd went wild; everyone in the room adored her and expressed those sentiments loudly, repeatedly, all night long. With support from Born Gold, who acted as her backing band (more or less), Boucher’s bedroom beats translated well over the Echo’s sound system and onto the dance floor.
Much of her set was pre-recorded, but she did some live looping with her keyboards. “Vanessa” and “Oblivion” brought massive cheers, and moments of improvisation were welcomed with enthusiastic applause. Boucher bounced in between keyboards, often playing two at the same time, dancing awkwardly to the beat. When she tried to leave the stage at the end of the set, her fans literally would not let her; they met her at the side of the stage, giving exit-blocking hugs until she gave up and returned to the front for one last song.
Her performance was spot-on; it sounded quite close to Visions, and that’s what most people would hope for in her live show. The only problem is that it felt all too short; her set ended in less than an hour, just as she hit her stride. We were hoping for a truly spectacular show given the hype surrounding Grimes and Visions, but perhaps brevity isn’t too offensive of a crime given how fantastic the music sounded live.