It really was an odd night at Santos. My energy and enjoyment level was like an amusement park ride that pulls you way, way up and then drops you way, way down. Over and over again. There were high points of the night, by which I mean times that both Restless People and Washed Out sounded rich and heavy, but there were also very low, static points.
Last night was Restless People’s first show, something singer Mike Bell-Smith (pictured) announced apologetically a handful of times. He didn’t need to apologize- the band was well rehearsed and performed expertly. But Restless People is very much a collaboration– a supergroup, if you will. There wasn’t tension between the band mates, but artistically it was pretty clear that one half of the band, (who are unsurprisingly the duo Tanlines), favors a more tropical and off-tempo beat sound detailed with jangly guitar, while the other is more interested in a front-man led vocal-heavy outfit.
With the exception of “Days Of Our Lives” and “Victimless Crime,” Restless People’s songs were sketches– ideas not fully formed. And it’s my guess the songs feel incomplete because the band members have different ideas on where the songs should go.
“Days Of Our Lives” was one of said high points. The song breaks at just the right moment, moving from one beat segment to the next. A foghorn cries out at the beginning like a coyote whining at the moon. You could almost feel the whole audience begin to move on the downbeat.
It should be noted that Tanlines have been playing together a lot for about a year, and the chemistry between them, Jesse Cohen and Emm, is tangible– even in a hollow space like Santos Party House. The two stand in the back of the stage behind samplers, laptops, affects and other gadgets. Emm plays some guitar just like he does in Tanlines and Cohen dances just like he does in Tanlines. They look like a band.
Bassist Tony Blankets, who also performs as Newborn Huskies, is the constant in the band. Just as he did in Professor Murder, (the band that features 3 out of 4 Restless People with the 4th being their sometime producer Eric Emm,) Blankets adds a richness that can’t be found in electronics alone.
I think Restless People will find its sound- if they put the time in. Who knows if that will happen though- in interviews the band has said some of these are leftover song ideas from Professor Murder, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for a new band searching for its sound.
Washed Out may be the most hyped act of the year. The dude literally emerged from a Georgia peach orchard with a smile on his baby face. And he applauds his own songs. There was something so endearing about Ernest Greene last night- but by 1:45 a.m. endearment went out the window. I realized something– this guy wasn’t doing anything.
The dude needs a band.
Greene is an expert mood maker- I bet he charms the ladies and the men in his life to no end. His songs are at times sexy and at other times dark. They are upbeat and yet also desperately slow. But this didn’t really matter last night- unless you closed your eyes and imagined yourself someplace else.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m all about daydreaming, lying around, dancing at home alone naked, etc. (All of these are acts Washed Out’s music no-doubt inspires.) But last night in front of an eager crowd with strobe lights bathing his face, the power of Washed Out was lost. And that’s why Greene needs a band. He can be cute and push play on his laptop and sing over the recording. With other action behind him he can be better.
(He did play his first three songs with another guy. A big guy in a big white sweater. They keyboarded it up together and sang. It was really kind of a snooze– they sang in unison and all of the songs sounded alike. So that doesn’t suffice as a “band.”)
He’s also very amateur, which as we all know is not a bad thing. But Greene could use some practice fading in and out if he’s to stay a one-man band. The quiet spaces between tracks do nothing for momentum. And although clapping for yourself is cute, it doesn’t sound good.