Washed Out comes alive at the Commodore
At the Commodore Ballroom on Saturday, February 1
It was fitting that one of the first things Ernest Greene said to a packed Commodore on Saturday night was “You feelin’ all right?” Feelin’ all right is evidently one of the Washed Out main man's primary concerns, at least judging by his recorded output so far. That includes “It All Feels Right”, a standout selection from Paracosm, Washed Out's sophomore LP from last year.
When, after the inevitable intro of “Entrance”, Greene and his touring band kicked things off with the resolutely mellow and oddly tropical-flavoured “It All Feels Right”, it's fair to say that damn near every Portlandia viewer in Vancouver was feeling more than all right, and not just because of the clouds of B.C. Bud smoke hanging the air. (Those caused Greene to announce, "It smells like a Washed Out show.") Unlike the outright belligerence you might see on display at, say, a Pusha T show, this was a love-in, with much swaying of hips and nodding of heads.
The one who appeared to be having the most fun of all, though, was the Athens, Georgia–based frontman himself, who danced, shook his shaggy locks, and sang. And by that I mean he actually sang rather than mumbled, which is what he invariably does in the recording studio. Hey, I'm not being a dick here; he admitted as much himself when I interviewed him last August: “The way that I sing is very mumbled-together, and so I guess I’m kind of stuck with it now.”
And, okay, even at his most energetic on-stage, he's not exactly a belter, and he doesn’t exactly write hook-heavy pop tunes. Washed Out's songs are built on pastel-washed ambiance and subtle yet indelible melodies. The material, much of which is created by Greene alone in the studio (although Paracosm is much more organic-sounding than his past efforts), benefits greatly from being translated live by a five-piece band. At the Commodore, numbers like “All I Know” and the gorgeous “Weightless” gained a lot in the way of dynamics, with the latter coming across as a widescreen, Bics-in-the-air power ballad.
Later on, "Feel It All Around"—yup, another song about feelin’ it, best known as the opening theme to the TV show Portlandia—was reinvented as a smear of guitar atmospherics, lending it considerably more sonic depth than the lo-fi chillwave of its recorded incarnation, although its signature bass line and tom rolls were thankfully intact. This was followed by the set-closing “Amor Fati”, arguably Washed Out’s best song, with its propulsive shuffle beat topped by vocal harmonies heavenly enough to make a grown man weep. Well, maybe some grown men, but not this one, of course. Ahem.
After that, a two-song encore might have felt perfunctory, but those two songs were “Hold Out”, retooled as a thumping, strobe-lit dance-floor blitz, and the sublime dream-pop confection “Eyes Be Closed”, so it was all good.
I only managed to catch the last three songs by opener Kisses, because life (hey, the recycling isn’t going to take itself out), but they were three enjoyable songs, at any rate. The Los Angeles–based duo of singer-guitarist Jesse Kivel and keyboardist Zinzi Edmundson (ably assisted by drummer Carl Alty) played a brand of slick indie soul-pop that, to be honest, I probably wouldn't listen to at home, but the musicianship was solid and frontman Kivel displayed some serious guitar chops.