Washed Out, Memoryhouse @ Urban 04.28

Posted April 30, 2012 in
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Washed Out
Urban Lounge
With Memoryhouse

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.

There was a big difference between Washed Out on record and Washed Out the show. If you’re the kind of person who wants a band to sound exactly like they do on the record, you probably hated this show—a lot of the songs were changed up a bit to translate into a full band as Washed Out has moved from a bedroom project to a career for Greene. The songs sounded bigger and louder and heavier than the laptop synth-pop versions. Though the drummer, bassist and keyboard/synth player were stone-faced throughout the entire show, Greene was obviously into it—pounding on his keys, bobbing his head like a parrot and putting himself into every word he sang. You could tell he really gives a shit and that he was loving every second of the performance. The band played almost the entire Life of Leisure EP in addition to a big chunk of Within and Without. The crowd went crazy when they heard the opening for bangers such as “Amor Fati” and “Get Up,” but everyone really went ape-shit when they realized that the band was about to play “Feel It All Around.” Greene cracked a smile right before starting—he knew that this single song is really what everyone was waiting for. Evan Abeele from Memoryhouse grabbed a guitar and joined in for the most popular television theme song among 21 to 35-year-old Americans.  Some genius screamed “Portlandia!” after the song, and another genius told his friend, “That song’s on Portlandia.” 

After another handful of songs that were all too good to remember them individually, Greene said “Thank you,” and ran off stage in a dorky, obvious pre-encore dash. As they ran back on, they wasted no time with a heavy-hitting remix (Is it a remix if it’s live?) of what I think was “Echoes” but sounded more upbeat—whatever it was, it was by far the best song of the show and elicited five straight minutes of headbanging by a long-haired dude in the crowd. Many weird dance moves were danced during the second encore song as the crowd tried to suck as much magic out of Washed Out as they could before the night was over. The band ended the show with a blast of white light and smiles all around—especially Greene, who looked like he had just been saved. Shit, by the end of the show I felt like I had been saved. Thank god he didn’t just bring a mic and a laptop.