By: Greg Gargiulo
Neon Indian :: 03.26.10 :: Mezzanine :: San Francisco, CA
When it comes to seeing any of the up-and-comers in the indie scene live these days, there's no such thing as a sure bet. Under the massive umbrella that extends over the far reaches of "indie," it often takes new bands some time to establish the clout, cred or even the chops to garner a live reputation, and results tend to be unpredictable. Heading in to see Neon Indian - who's been buzzing like the inside of a honeycomb since the release of their debut, Psychic Chasms (10/13/09 Lefse Records) - this sort of uncertainty was applicable. The fact that Chasms clocks in at just under 31 minutes additionally left one to wonder how they'd be able to flesh out a full set with so little material. The fact that they were able to dazzle the Mezzanine audience with such a sweeping display of musical ingenuity and weave it all together as fluidly as they did was almost shocking, and it managed to fast-track this band towards legitimacy in a big way.
The common denominator of the entire performance was a fuzzy, droning hum that was introduced before the full band even made it onstage. Like warm waves washing over all bodies present, the sound would persist in slightly altered incarnations and served as the segue glue that linked each selection together. After ample time was allowed for this hum to run its scene-setting course, business in the form of an actual song was addressed, and it was immediately apparent what type of direction this Texas-based collective was taking. What followed was a vivid array of neo-psychedelia-meets-retro-synth-pop that was weird enough to get lost in but bouncy enough to boogie to. Careful attention was paid to introducing and constructing each piece, and nearly every song featured some additives not found on the studio version that only enhanced the already-solid base.
"Mind, Drips," one of Chasms' standout tracks, saw some striking additions that made it soar notably higher than the rest. With a foundation of spacey synth arpeggios and an electronic bass-kick that together denoted cosmic sailing of some sort, lead singer Alan Palomo's distant, echoed vocals on top of the 'oohs' and 'aahs' of the backup singing helped further convey the notion of passing through the atmosphere into the ether. As if visual components were needed to complete the interplanetary picture, vibrant green and red lasers ran patterned courses overhead in sequence with the divine sounds below.
If the contents of a song were ever to be described by its title alone, "Terminally Chill" could easily combat - peacefully, of course - with just about any other conceivable contender. Flowering daisies, a hilltop picnic at sunset and an iridescent sky laced with swirling cumulus clouds all sprung to mind with this one, which gave guitarist Ronald Geirhart a prime spot to shine. Working with Spaceman-esque attire and some Jimmy Page-like movements, Geirhart made some definitive points as to how and where his guitar transmissions could fit into this band, and his licks pierced brilliantly through the hazy backdrop of lo-fi synth bops.
The only disappointment, albeit a minor one, came in the form of "Should Have Taken Acid With You," considered one of their two major hit singles. Though extended like every other number they put forth, nothing supplemental or innovative stood out with this one, and for the only time all show, Palomo's vocals sounded weak and inferior. Trippy little drips and drops still pushed through and twisted things up a bit, compliments of Leanne Macomber's tweaked-out keyboard work, but as a whole it left something to be desired. Fortunately, the other hit, "Deadbeat Summer," did more than enough to redeem the brief sleeper. The quintessential jam that characterizes Neon Indian's sound more than any other, "Summer" had everything that makes them such a satisfying listen - basic drum beat, well-placed distorted guitar jabs, a dancing, high-pitched key progression with some phaser and flanger effects, and Palomo's caressing vocals issued while he glided back and forth across the stage. A very distinctive form of dancing - something like toned-down hippie flailing spliced with some left-to-right foot shimmying and casual head nods - accompanied this tune and was a unique sight to behold.
To cap off a stellar presentation of onstage skills and commanding presence, they encored with one straight from the annals of the early '80s: Yazoo's "Situation." Given the fact that most of their tracks contain direct underpinnings that can be traced back to '80s greats like Depeche Mode and The Cure, it made sense that they'd pull out this sometimes-forgotten gem to close things out. The familiar refrain and identifiable chord progression did plenty to stir things up one final time and turn the place into a Miami Vice-like nightclub.
For such a young band out of a pool of unproven, hyped-up acts to already be putting on bangers such as this, it's a safe to raise the bar of expectations just a smidgeon and spread the word about what this troop is capable of.
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