I thought I could hear Zooey Dechanel whining from within the Urban Lounge as I sat idling in the parking lot, waiting for a drunk lady to walk to her car so I could take her parking spot. When I walked through the front door and snaked through the crowd to the side of the stage I saw that it wasn’t Zooey Dechanel on stage, it was Denise Nouvion of Ontario’s Memoryhouse. Their set had just started and Nouvion’s oh-so-sad crooning and Evan Abeele’s vast, reverb-laden guitar already had the crowd under a spell. The audience stood shoulder to shoulder with their eyes closed, ever so gently nodding their parted hair-dos and plastic eyeglasses to the beat. The whole thing felt way too indie rom-com. After another song or two, though, the band and the crowd turned up the energy level as Memoryhouse played more upbeat versions of material from The Years EP and their new LP, The Slideshow Effect. Though Memoryhouse is a two-piece collaboration between Nouvion and Abeele, their nameless touring drummer added a much-appreciated layer of muscle to the set—his harsh snare and drum machine-like pounding gave the band more depth than found on their recorded material. Halfway through the set, the audience was bobbing their heads with full force—I even lost my cynical smirk and let my toe tap. I’m not saying the band had turned me into a devoted fan, but I get them—they have brooding, shoegaze guts and a longing-yet-hopeful pop heart. As Memoryhouse played their last song, Nouvion sang the phrase, “shut me up,” over and over again but nobody in the audience would have dared shut her up—the vibe in the place was romantic as fuck. Or maybe that was just part of some Memoryhouse-induced indie rom-com delusion.
By the time the band was cheered off the stage, the place had almost filled up with what looked like a totally random swatch of society, rather than the clothing catalogue orgy I assumed would be gathered to be seen seeing Washed Out. This dynamic would prove interesting later on. As Memoryhouse cleared their gear off the stage and the Washed Out crew set theirs up, the tension level of the crowd built. Most people opted to hold their territory on the floor rather than go out back to chain smoke or get drinks at the bar—these fans meant business. I was surprised at the amount of gear that was being set up on the stage: a full drum kit, a V of synthesizers and samplers front and center, two more synth/sampler stations and enough vocal mics for three people. Interesting, since Washed Out is the one-man project of Ernest Greene. “Thank god it won’t just be a dude with a mic and a laptop,” I said to myself.
With Greene and company getting blunted in the greenroom, the packed house was getting tangibly anxious to see how Washed Out would translate as a live performance, myself included. We were as tense as suburban moms in line for the City Creek Disney Store on opening day. I couldn’t just stand and wait so I risked losing my prime spot and dashed to the bar, threw down a fiver and gulped a bottle of Steam in seconds flat. As if on cue, Greene and his crew filed on stage and launched immediately into a face-vibrating rendition of “Echoes” from Within and Without. Everyone was caught a little off guard—an insane flashing wall of purple light behind a live drummer, bass/synth player and Greene’s wife playing additional synths, Washed Out felt bigger than anyone expected. Greene’s haunting vocals and keys were backed by cell-liquefying bass and eerie synth, all set to a spot-on driving drum beat you could feel in your stomach. This intro set the bar high, but Greene and the band were killing it song after song, each better than the last. The band moved into “New Theory” from the Life of Leisure EP and the upbeat live drumming over the programmed drum track and Greene’s blissed-out vocals lent the place a grinning party vibe and the crowd was loving it. Especially the middle-aged couple on their monthly date, rubbing and grinding to my left—although they were so faded that the band could have played anything and I still would have felt the man’s hairy arm jab me as he rubbed the drunk woman’s midsection. As the band played the mellow, subtly sexy sounds of “Soft” from Within and Without, the couple dashed/staggered out of the crowd and the rest of us bobbed and swayed to a perfect musical moment.