Robert Alfons of Trust. Photo: Norman Wong
Have you ever felt that monumentally fucked-up feeling in life, gotten trashed, covered yourself in careless black makeup and gone to see that new goth band somehow everybody in town suddenly knows about? It won’t happen often in Salt Lake City, but sometimes you’ll find yourself under these circumstances. Me. Trust. Gothic contrition. Trust has been incredibly influential for me this past year. Their debut album, TRST, has nourished my babybat maturation and been a setting for the transgressive happiness that I look for in post-punk expression. Falling in love with Robert Alfons’ form of gothic synthpop and dancehall has coincided with my courtship of the greater post-goth class of right this minute: Austra, Zola Jesus, Purity Ring and other bands that translate the old goth codes for younger generations. Trust is the poster band for this new goth aesthetic, the “fake” goth; they’re generally dark-leaning, folded in synthpop traditions, dance oriented and mysteriously queer. The record cover for TRST, a snapshot of a cis-male goth in drag, is a perfect image of the new goth; democratic, ugly, sexual, maybe inhibited, but weird, mysterious and fun.
I was so excited to see Trust play a headlining show since their opening set for The Faint last November was cut short to accommodate another event (Pure at In the Venue). Only a handful of people came out specifically for Trust then and the rest of the crowd didn’t seem to be interested in acknowledging Alfons’ erotic goth crooning and hyperactive Ian Curtis dexterity. They played just five songs that snowy evening in November yet I fell asleep that night wrapped in the blissful feelings of synthpop dreams. This time around, I was ready to lose even more. And this time around, Urban Lounge was packed with an enthusiastic, classy crowd. I don’t know who’s spilling these new goth secrets, but it’s a very nice development in Salt Lake nightlife. I love seeing our venues packed for my favorite bands–– especially with the variety of people that Trust brought out of the woodwork. Babybats of Goth Lake City, let’s fly!
The show opened with a modest set from Brooklyn-based group Eraas. They played ambient darkwave that set the mood for a goth-soaked event that also worked as a foil to the club and dance elements in Trust’s songs. The two founding members of the group, Robert Toher and Austin Stawiarz, performed humbly, without addressing the crowd. Stawiarz used a bass guitar mostly while Toher employed various drum kits and sequencers and sang thinly through filters. The crowd was sparse and stoic; it’s hard to get excited about that kind of music in a live setting. Their presentation was fantastic and lively, but lost some of the intimacy of their recent self-titled debut recording. Maybe we were saving our energies for Trust.
Alfons and his two bandmates appeared on stage in a cloud of haze and fog, immediately opening their act with the captivating track “Shoom.” Wearing a plain black tee, black jeans and sporting a perfect quiff, Alfons took the microphone and began to sing in his signature gothic croon, showing off his elastic dance moves and chameleon vocal approach––part Peter Murphy glam goth, part Virgin Prunes wail and part Brett Anderson falsetto. Alfons exuded an icy distance while maintaining a connection with the animated dancing mob. Beside him were his two band members who worked the band’s electronics––synths and drum machines. Alfons’ friend and collaborator Maya Postepksi may have been making new friends at her day job (as the drummer for Austra), but Trust does just fine without her anyway. “Shoom” was a perfect song to grab the attention of Urban’s anticipatory crowd. They started with it last time around and now it perfectly introduced Trust to Salt Lake’s goths and curious babybats. Without a friendly transition, they took us into “Chrissy E,” a more mischievous track that showcased Alfons’ highest falsetto and lyrics of sex and drugs, “line after line you never notice,” against a dreamy loop of drums and synths. Trust’s music is perfect for nightclubs and small dark venues like Urban Lounge. Their songs ooze of steamy encounters in underground clubs, tainted love, homoerotic gazes, lust, urges and unfulfilled desires. Seeing them performed and acted out in a crowd willing to dance substantiated rumors that Trust is more gay club oriented than candelabra wielding gothic rock. From there they went straight into the pulsating rhythm of “Bulbform,” feeding the crowd a dark energy. As they started “Dressed for Space” I felt as if I had been carried away by some tall beautiful lover for the evening for a gloomy episode of romance. Thankfully that tune is even more exuberant live than in its neon acid rave music video, and I was brought back to the blistering dancefloor. I danced my legs through the floor, lost my notebook and had just enough to drink to lose most of what I had thought I was writing down anyway.
Alfons didn’t say much the whole evening. True to the goth spirit, he only addressed the crowd through his songs. Each sounded exactly as it does on the album, which was slightly disappointing; I was hoping for at least some experimentation. Still, its impressive that Alfons hit every note perfectly in his trademark range, shrill to baritone. They played one new song though, that sounded a bit like a pulsating Austra tune. Hopefully it’s from an in-progress follow-up to their debut. They played “Heaven,” a love song, my favorite Trust song. Something about that chorus, “neon love, without a doubt… while I figure it out,” just gets at my core. Trust isn’t just slick and super cool, they make gorgeous music, Alfons writes incredibly surreal and moving songs. They ended the set with “Sulk,” the track that has understandably gained the most acclaim for them. It’s got a simple drum loop and satisfying hook. Simple and elegant, a gothic contrition. While everyone was dancing their asses off, the song’s lyrics drowned my body in nervous feeling. Sometimes I wonder who else follows words in music anymore, if bodies at concerts are only dancing. Honestly, they’re the reason I dance at all.
They came back to the stage and played the slow burning “Candy Walls” for a slow jam encore to cap off a glamorous night. It’s a great song to close with, there’s something in it that endures and live, it’s melancholic but also hopeful. The whole night was perfect, beautifully improving on the short, sweet performance of last November. I’m looking forward to the next time around.