Neon Indian @ the Mezzanine
by Rebecca Gayle
To conclude the month of September, Neon Indian filled the industrial corners of the Mezzanine, an intimate venue in downtown San Francisco, with its chillwave-defining sound, breathing new life into the band’s 2009 release, Psychic Chasms.
Opening first for Neon Indian were indie pop-rockers, Miniature Tigers. Miniature Tigers, whose sound is much more acoustic and radio-friendly, played a fairly entertaining, but unmemorable, set. Although the quartet certainly showcased each band member’s talent through several instrumental changes, as well as highlighting each band member’s strengths with a song or two, the band as a whole failed to present a sound as enticing, absorbing, and interesting as Neon Indian’s inventive, out-of-the-box work. Throughout their set, the members of Miniature Tiger seemed to be holding something back, easing much too slowly into the more energetic, interesting elements that came toward the end of their songs. Furthermore, once they began to scratch the surface of less explored territory and really experiment, they would end the song and begin another that developed just as slowly. For instance, after 1 to 2 minutes of bland, Starbucks-type music (or “good homework music” as one girl from the audience described it), Miniature Tigers would throw in something interesting like the drummer’s firm but gentle “ch ch ch” or beat-boxing elements in one of the songs.
Hinting at their talent and potential to be full-grown tigers in the music industry, Miniature Tigers would give the audience a very small taste of their abilities as musicians and entertainers – as evidenced by the chaotic drum jam during the middle of their last song – leaving the audience to wonder where this energy, invention, and distinctly “not homework” sound was through the rest of the set. Ultimately, Miniature Tigers’ performance warranted no special attention, seeming to suggest that the band’s goal is to follow in other indie acts’ footsteps rather than blaze its own artistic trail.
Taking the stage after Miniature Tigers was second opener, Prefuse 73, with DJ Shadow, Scott Herren, at the helm of this hip-hop sampling electronic act consisting of three DJs mixing and spinning, as well as drummers manning two very impressive drum kits. Providing a stark contrast to Miniature Tigers, Prefuse 73 showcased itself as a collaboration of DJs who are not afraid to experiment with mixing and mashing. The result was a rather long set that featured some beautiful mixing transitions between songs and an energetic, interesting setlist. Throughout the performance, all of Prefuse 73’s musicians were busily jamming on their respective drums or mixing tables and performing their art so diligently that they did not even have time to pause between songs. Although the collaboration’s performance was quite long, Prefuse 73 provided a welcome break from the blandness of Miniature Tigers and properly hyped the crowd up for Neon Indian’s electronic-influenced sound.
After the two openers’ sets, Neon Indian – brainchild of lead singer / synthesizer Alan Palomo, who evoked a Prince-like presence with his half-glittered shirt and asymmetrical mop of curly hair, as well as his movement and enthusiasm throughout the set – finally took the Mezzanine’s stage in total darkness. Seeing the many different instruments that contribute to the uniquely catchy sound of Psychic Chasms added a new dimension to the album experience. Although the live instrumentation of the set did detract from the more subtle and enticing sonic details that can be clearly heard on the album, seeing the songs of Psychic Chasms being played live and in real time – without any after-the-fact editing – certainly breathed into it some new life. Furthermore, the live presentation of the album’s tracks brought the electric guitar – and its talented musician – more to the forefront of the band’s sound, as opposed to its mostly supporting role behind the synth in the album.
For the set, Neon Indian played all of Psychic Chasms, albeit in a different order, with the highlight of its performance being – no surprise here – the hits “Deadbeat Summer” and “Should Have Taken Acid With You,” as well as the less expected, but incredibly beautiful “6669 (I don’t Know If You Know).” To end the show, the band played a rousing version of the equally fluid, LSD-inspired “Mind, Drips,” which featured Palomo writhing on his back on the floor of the stage. Even after exhausting its limited Psychic Chasms library of songs, Neon Indian appeared for an encore, performing a new, drum-heavy song that may appear on an album in the not-so-distant future. (Palomo openly announced that Neon Indian would be returning to the recording studio immediately after the band concludes its current tour.) Overall, Neon Indian’s performance left the audience pleasantly satisfied with a live incarnation of the infectious chillwave of Psychic Chasms and eargerly anticipating whatever inventive madness the band chooses to create next.