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Youth Lagoon @ The Pabst Theater

Sept. 12, 2013

Sep. 13, 2013
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youth lagoon
Photo credit: CJ Foeckler
Youth Lagoon’s second full-length album, Wondrous Bughouse, is a psychedelic bedroom pop odyssey. Like a menacing circus soundtrack, the album layers dark, introspective lyrics atop bouncy, whimsical waltzes and anthemic pop ballads between stretches of trippy instrumental ambiance. While maintaining some of the stylistic intricacies of the group’s first album—including similar song structures and Youth Lagoon mastermind Trevor Powers’ childlike voice, which at times calls to mind Daniel Johnston—the results are ultimately a far cry from The Year of Hibernation in both aim and execution, and Thursday night they translated to the stage with contrasting results.

“Last time we were here I was extremely ill,” said Powers early on in the evening, referring to an appearance last year at Turner Hall Ballroom that ended disastrously early after Powers left the stage only a few songs in, “hopefully we’ll make it up to you tonight.” At that Turner Hall concert fans were left with only a glimpse of what The Year of Hibernation might sound like performed live with the minimalist presentation of Powers at the keyboards and drum sequencer along with a sole guitarist as accompaniment. Thursday’s return performance, however, saw Youth Lagoon as a complete four-piece band and began with Wondrous Bughouse’s trippy “Attic Doctor.” Those expecting a continuation of last year’s performance were in for a rude awakening. The new material seemingly has its sights set on larger venues, perhaps festivals, and carries the volume and immediacy to match it. Powers’ sensitive, crooning mumble was replaced with punctuated barking as he sang, “The doctor puts on a face to tell her she couldn’t have babies.”

The band quieted down for the set’s second song, “Sleep Paralysis,” which allowed some of the players’ more arresting elements to come to the forefront. After getting accustomed to the set’s mostly back-and-forth focus on soft, quiet intros, voluminous crescendos and ambient in-betweens, the balance seemed appropriate featuring the strengths of both albums equally. Additional highlights included singles “Dropla” and “Mute” and crowd favorites “July” and “Seventeen.”

Only occasionally did Powers step out from behind the helm of his keyboards, which faced the side of the stage, to engage the receptive audience. The frontman provided perhaps his most powerful moments of performance at his station jittering during some of the nights more danceable stretches, kneeling in seeming exhaustion and sometimes slamming his hands into his instruments as if demanding some response that they were incapable of delivering. And maybe that’s exactly what he was doing: With songs that, at moments, were capable of completely, spontaneously silencing the audience with the sort of quiet power that’s generally reserved for folk troubadours, Powers may have even more powerful songs hidden somewhere in the space between his psychedelic and nostalgic musings.


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