Only four people graced the stage at Chicago’s Metro on Wednesday night. Two for Porcelain Raft, two for Youth Lagoon, yet each respective act generated enough instrumentation to fill a large theatre double its size. Early into the night, the sweeping romantic ballads of Porcelain Raft mastermind Mauro Remiddi swirled about, bringing many seemingly cautious spectators to dance and swoon at each and every word. Out in support of this year’s heart wrenching Strange Weekend, Remiddi laced tracks like “Shapeless & Gone” or “Talk to Me” with an edgier buzz, sizzling the guitar and crooning slightly erratic. If he wasn’t frantically switching between his guitar or various synthesizers and pedals, Remiddi might have appeared emotionally invested; instead, he took on the style of a dazed conductor, obsessed with hitting each note and lining up the variables.
That’s all fine, but when you’re working off an album as emotionally charged as Strange Weekend, you really want to feel the lyrical punches and kicks. On stage, Remiddi came off as almost distant, as if there was too much work cut out for him to really absorb his own material and he just needed it to sound right. That wasn’t always the case, however, especially during set closer “Unless Your Speak From Your Heart”, which grooved not only off the various loops and thudding percussion from his fantastic touring drummer, but also stemmed from those sultry vocals of his. It was then that things really started getting intimate and balmy, but unfortunately, it all ended shortly after. Lesson learned: Hire a multi-instrumentalist.
Trevor Powers, the tour de force behind Youth Lagoon, baked America’s hearts last year with his debut album, The Year of Hibernation. Working off essentially the same chiming scale, Powers knocked out eight tracks worthy of soundtracking any moment of the day. Equally melancholic and hopeful, the youthful charm within each track reveals a musician that’s still growing up and experiencing the age of adolescence. When he shuffled on-stage, along with his touring guitarist, one either related to him or turned to their friend and said something along the lines of “Hey, I just got deja vu, didn’t we just see this?”
Close, but not quite. Whereas Remiddi supercharged each of his tracks, Powers more or less recreated the album. Tracks like “17”, “Afternoon”, or their hit “July” echoed Hibernation to precision, and that’s not a critical mark in the slightest. But, here’s one: The set lacked any chutzpah. As Powers and his guitarist swung through one track to the next, there was hardly any rapport with the crowd, little energy lingered after, and it all sort of bled eventually. On record, that signature scale and melody that evolves and resurfaces creates this embracing room, though that doesn’t translate on stage – at least not yet. Instead, they should embrace the epic sounds laden in each track by surging ahead with a full-scale band. These aren’t great songs because they’re put together by two people, they’re great songs because they’re fucking great songs. Lesson learned: Hire a drummer, a bassist, possibly a second guitarist, and stop limiting yourself.
Writer’s Post-Analysis Guilt: Really, no reason to gripe or complain here. The two acts excelled at producing everything I’ve been obsessing over on record for the past few months. It’s just, well, sometimes I feel the two person band takes precedence over the actual music, sort of like when your English teacher would tell you that your form is distracting the reader from the story. Oh, wait.