As eager as I was to see Washed Out, I was almost more curious to see how an audience would react to the music live.
The brainchild of Ernest Greene, this Athens, Georgia act creates an intimate, synth heavy ambience that seems more fitting heard through a pair of earbuds than in the communal setting of a live venue. How would a crowd respond in public to chillwave? Zone out in a dream like trance with the occasional bob of the head? Dance erotically with one finger in the air another in their mouths without making eye contact with anyone?
Saturday night at Culture Room was even more crowded than the usual sold out show as a Biblical downpour prevented any outside smoking or socializing. So the people were packed in, shoulder to shoulder, with little room to dance. Movement was relegated to handclapping and recording with smartphones.
Greene stood center stage flanked by four band members. His wife in the back on keyboard joined with an energetic drummer, up front were two multi-instrumentalists who played guitar, synthesizers, bass, and maracas. There was a smoke machine, and lights bathed the band in neon blues and pinks, reflecting that early 1980s aesthetic Washed Out draws upon so heavily.
Greene told New Times in an interview last week that he recorded the new album Paracosm with live shows in mind, thereby making only music that he knew could translate from the recording studio to the stage. That mission was accomplished. Many of the thirteen songs of Washed Out's set sounded note and pitch perfectly matched to its albums. There were some notable differences, the most jarring one being Greene's demeanor. For a man whose singing voice is so icy, rarely betraying any emotion, he seemed gregarious, goofy, as he thanked the crowd and tried to hype them up always with a toothy smile on his face.
The other surprise involved Washed Out's most famous song "Feel It All Around," which serves as the theme song for the television show Portlandia. For this tune, Greene strapped a guitar around his neck and slowed down the tempo at the start, making the first few chords almost unrecognizable to Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, and the rest of the cast of the IFC comedy. This rendition sculpted the song into a psychedelic Pink Floyd-type number or maybe the soundtrack of one of those Matthew McConaughey car commercials.
As imagined, with its introverted dreaminess, Washed Out did not inspire much dancing or movement, but instead smiles and bliss. The only complaint I overheard about the band's 13-song set was that it was too short. Even with the break before the two song encore, its time on stage barely dented a full hour. But I suppose that should be expected as dreams, like the music inspired by them, are always fleeting.
Washed Out's Set List:
"It All Feels Right"
"All I Know"
"You and I"
"Feel It All Around"
"Eyes Be Closed"