Live Review: Washed Out and Memoryhouse at Porter’s Pub, May 7, 2012

Photo by Andrew Scoggins

Anyone looking to lose themselves in the crests and valleys of Washed Out’s ocean of synth and drone at Porter’s Pub on Monday night was rudely brought back to land by the shoddy sound mix.

It’s a shame too, because dream-pop openers Memoryhouse had an incredibly well-mixed set. Their three-piece setup weaved synth and droning guitar into beautiful, slow-building soundscapes that set a perfect stage for the headliners.

When Washed Out took to the stage against the neon blue LED lights and front man Ernest Greene set up behind the keyboard, his hair already condensed into hanging, sweaty strands, the crowd’s excitement was at a fever pitch. But instead of being able to sway and groove to the slowly building ebb and flow, audience members near the stage received pounding earfuls of bass.

Even through professional earplugs, the thundering bass bordered on unpleasant. Half of the sold-out crowd clutched its ears at one point or another during the show, straining to the husband and wife duo’s (Ernest’s wife Blair Sexton Greene plays keyboards) crooning vocals. There were some moments when one could make out the symphony of chillwave in songs like “Feel It All Around” and “Amor Fati” and the crowd was able to establish a steady, swaying rhythm amidst the small puffs of marijuana smoke. But unfortunately, moments like those were rare.

There are some who will argue that the Greene family’s vocals are naturally low in the mix and that it’s simply a characteristic of chillwave music. However, there is a big difference between using vocals as another instrument — as Washed Out did when opening for Cut Copy at 4th & B a few months ago — and not even being able to hear the melody over the bass whomp.

Washed Out put on a good show that was incredibly high-energy, but the band’s sound tech kept it from being a great show. For the encore of “Eyes Be Closed,” I moved to the back of the venue by the soundboard, where I was able to experience a balanced mix of layered vocals, synth, and rumbling bass. Unfortunately, for a sold-out show, Monday night was a letdown for the half of the crowd that was packed up front.

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