The stage for Washed Out’s show Friday night looked as if Ernest Greene had peeled back layers of his Paracosm cover to make a space where he, his wife, and the other two players could perform. It was as if he picked some of the album’s front-jacket flowers for a ceramic vase in his Perry, GA home and planted some additional white blooms at the base of his keyboards. Petals were strewn from the ceiling of the packed-to-the brim Metro, and a sphere that could have either been crafted from twigs by elves or, you know, come from Pier One Imports, hung above the stage, acting as a makeshift disco ball for a concert set in an enchanted forest. The glowing orb inside of it coupled with the hanging flowers’ to create twinkling lights that would eventually dazzle the venue, setting the best possible mood for a night of orchestral chillwave.
Greene shuffled about the stage with his roadies after opening band Haerts packed it in, his setup of complex MIDI instruments and guitars clearly requiring his personal touch. Donning a grey cardigan and a big, goofy smile, his pre-show presence elicited cheers from the full crowd that spilled out into the halls by mid-set.
Things kicked off a little after 11 p.m. with the bird chirps and intricate percussion of Paracosm’s “It All Feels Right”, further transporting the audience into Washed Out’s secret garden of a show. Considering the first few years of the artist’s touring history consisted of Greene behind a laptop, and that 2011’s Within and Without was largely synth-based, the artist’s current toolbox, heavily expanded at this point, is impressive in both sound and scope. He conducted an orchestra from his fingertips throughout the 12-song set, and while the majority of the audience might not have always known how a certain sound was being crafted, the MacBook-less arrangements proved impressive, and the music’s breadth and power left the mystery feeling of no consequence.
After wrapping up the dark groove of “Belong”, Greene whisked his stringy bob into a low ponytail. “New Theory” and “Get Up” got even the statue of a stoner in the pot-plant-speckled cardigan moving, only to have “Soft” slow thing down and “You and I” rein in the nodding chillwave disciples. The pastoral richness of Paracosm stole the show, with the lush layers of “All I Know” flowing into the stirring beat of “Don’t Give Up”. Greene brought things full circle with what was inevitably overheard as “the Portlandia song,” “Feel It All Around”, and the undeniable rhythm had the whole place in a synchronized groove. Hey, the beat of the ’90s is alive in Portland, and apparently in Chicago as well.
Between songs, Greene was a man of few words, only offering his thanks, a few shout-outs to his openers, and a couple of indications on how new a song was. When he and his band returned for the encore, he dedicated “Despicable Dogs” to the old-school Washed Out fans in the house, and closed the night with the psychedelia of “Eyes Be Closed”. Considering the vibey Greene originally intended to become a librarian, Washed Out’s progression from bedroom project, to Sub Pop heavy-hitter, to compelling stage show is all the more interesting and impressive, especially when it all comes together fuller and richer than one could ever imagine.
It All Feels Right
You and I
All I Know
Don’t Give Up
Feel it All Around
Eyes Be Closed