Youth Lagoon displayed an energetic, accessible side to the sensitive eccentricity of frontman Trevor Powers at the Irenic on Tuesday night.
When I first heard Youth Lagoon, I wasn’t an immediate fan. They came across as another Animal Collective/MGMT-esque pop band shrouding their personalities in faux-electronic experimentalism, and I’d largely written off the sound as a cheap way to be labeled creative. Prior to seeing them, I watched a video of their performance at the 2011 Pitchfork festival, during which Powers was only accompanied by a guitarist. The pre-programmed drums and lack of melodic clarity between the guitarist and keyboard player didn’t make a strong impression on me, and the vocals had so much reverb on them they were nearly inaudible. So I went to the Irenic last Tuesday with an open mind but meager expectations.
Opener Lady Lazarus may have been a bit too young for the crowd there that night — in just about every sense of the word. Dressed in a shining red evening gown, she played earnest, emotional songs on her unfiltered keyboards while showing off her impressive singing ability. Despite her obvious talent as both a performer and a songwriter, it’ll be a while before she grows comfortable stepping outside of her comfort zone and her songs become unique enough on their own. That comfort zone is an undeniably pretty one, but it won’t turn many heads. Her music was reflective, well-written, and even beautiful at times, but it wasn’t what the PBR-guzzling indie rock crowd was there to see.
The first surprise of the night came when Youth Lagoon wheeled out a drum set and a stack of amps much larger than I had anticipated. With a drummer, bassist, and guitarist behind him, Powers was able to inject a bit of life into his set. While Powers was obviously still the driving force behind the band, the band added a very straightforward rock element to his off-color synth melodies.
“This is a chameleon jacket; it lets me turn into whatever I want,” Powers said between songs, showing off his elaborately colored jacket to the crowd. “Right now I want to turn into a chameleon.”
His emotional, nasally vocals were far less filtered than on the recently released Wondrous Bughouse, a pleasant surprise which worked well in a strained, Daniel Johnston sort of way. The vocals and strange synth hooks blended perfectly with the pounding guitars and drums behind Powers, which departed significantly from the controlled, deliberate sound on the album.
Youth Lagoon’s live show proved infinitely more entertaining than the first few times listening to Wondrous Bughouse. I now have a deep appreciation for Powers as an artist and a performer and, going back through Bughouse, I regret dismissing him so quickly. I’ll be seeing Youth Lagoon again at Outside Lands in August, and this time I’m appropriately stoked to see them play.