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Gayngs @ First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN

May 16, 2010

May. 17, 2010
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Prom Night. Some aim to forget. Some aim to re-live. It’s apparent that last Friday evening at First Avenue in Minneapolis that prom night is an even to not only be relived for some, but an event to be reconfigured. “The Last Prom On Earth”/ Gayngs Relayted CD release party seemed dreamed up for those who went to prom in the late ’80s/early ’90s, which makes sense when considering who the ringleader of the Minnesota and Wisconsin-area supergroup Gayngs is: 33-year-old Ryan Olson, of Digitata and Building Better Bombs.

Olson has said the epiphany for his project was a song he heard on an AM station, 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love,” which started an obsession with the station. Intrigued by soft rock and R&B, Olson rounded up 22 of his musician friends to create Gayngs, recording his pals at his bedroom studio and at Justin Vernon’s April Base house/studio in Eau Claire. Honing in on Auto-Tuned harmonies, smooth saxophone, sultry jazz keys, glitchy beats and lots of schmaltzy soul, Olson definitely had his sound pinpointed. The collaboration, including P.O.S., Dessa, Ivan Howard of the Rosebuds, Phil Cook and Joe Westerlund of Megafaun, Vernon and his Bon Iver cohort Mike Noyce, Adam Hurlburt and Zach Coulter of Solid Gold and Maggie Morrison of Lookbook among others, poured out their love for the genre started by English art rock band 10cc in-person at First Avenue by playing their entire just-released CD, Relayted, live, in a swirling and purposely gaudy ’80s prom setting. Alluring, sexed-up audio created by a bunch of Midwestern indie, hip-hop, punk and folk musicians? The end result of their release is nostalgic, pretty indulgent, and admittedly good. Just how well it translated to a live performance, prom decorations or not, is another story.

The performance’s start was delayed until nearly midnight, leaving attendees shoulder-to-shoulder, unable to even dance to classics like Chris De Burgh’s “Lady in Red” if they’d wanted to. Once Gayngs sheepishly, and almost tentatively took the stage, the crowd was eager hear the homegrown jams. The first five members to hit the stage were dressed in white suits and evening gowns. Michael Lewis [Andrew Bird, Happy Apple] led the first track from Relayted, “The Gaudy Side of Town” with a swirling soprano sax line usually reserved for the hometown light rock station. This was music from a bygone era.

Welcoming no more than 14 members on stage at a time, Olson bopped around in the back, directing, as members passed around a bottle of Maker’s and took turns crooning, sinking into the third track, a cover of Godley & Crme’s “Cry.” Noyce, Vernon and Howard traded up vocal duties, Vernon’s trademark falsetto bumped up with some heavy vocoder manipulation. Problem was, the vocals got pretty buried in the ringing bass lines and prominent keys. Westerlund’s drums sounded spot-on, but the rest of the mix failed to support what should have been the focal point of the performance. It was obvious that the vocalists in question could hit their notes, but buried under so much orchestration, even P.O.S.’s polished Teddy Pendergrass tenor fell flat.

The rest of the set moved in and out as different cast members took the stage, Dessa, Morrison and Channy Moon Casselle (of Roma di Luna) punching up the energy with the upbeat, female-lead “Faded High.” The crowd was pumped for the sheer energy the song brought, even if the sound fell completely flat. By the time the band cut through all the tracks and did their final song, a cover of Howard Jones’ “No One is to Blame,” the audience seemed satisfied, but they weren’t necessarily cheering for more. The lights went back up and the sounds of Air Supply boomed out over the dance floor, strewn with dead balloons and confetti. The crowd seemed almost more psyched to be dancing to that than the show they’d just seen. If true, Gayngs did a perfect job in recreating ’80s schmaltz, but is that good in regards to a live performance, no matter how unoriginal? Perhaps a little fine-tuning would get these particular kitsch-revelers to turn their songs into more than bedroom recordings and more of a live experience, but then again, maybe the bedroom is the best place for this particular music, after all.

Photos by Chase Turner



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