It's Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer, and the majority of Phoenicians had Monday off and a show on Sunday night where they could celebrate and say an adamant farewell to the brutal heat.The drinks were cold, the misters were on and the music continued at Crescent Ballroom.Album Leaf and Tycho were there to kick off a round of touring together.
The ballroom fills up quickly as the show began with a droning synth intro.The stage populates with mic stands, a few keyboards, drums and among them, the light rods that were scattered among the instruments the first time Album Leaf played the venue.The screen lit up to the Album Leaf logo as Jimmy LaValle and company walks on.A man holding a violin sat to the far right, two others began playing keys as LaValle tunes a guitar.
After tuning, LaValle walks to center stage and the projection changes to black and white video of two guys throwing rocks into a river.A sustained violin note advances the song forward as LaValle vocalizes “oohs” throughout the song.The synth players gently nod their heads to the music as LaValle bends down to adjust a knob.The now illuminated light towers flicker from red to blue.As the intro song concludes, the man playing the Rhodes moves to the drum set as LaValle takes his place.
Several times during the set, the personnel rotated among the different instruments including a trumpet alongside the violin and keys that were included in every song.It's somewhat like watching a high tech jam band that makes use of traditional instruments alongside the synthesizers in front of visuals of boaters holding a leaf flag in the ocean or airplane diagrams while the crowd members bobbed their heads or rocked gently.A few in the audience were obviously there as fans of Album Leaf specifically; they gave screams of recognition at the beginning of a few songs.The set ended with what appeared to be the scene in Star Wars where Alderaan explodes projected behind them.
For the second performance at Crescent Ballroom, Album Leaf seemed a bit more organic than previously with similar artfully done projections to accompany the music.The focus is not so much on LaValle and his stage persona, he banters very little between songs and only sings during “There is a Wind” as it is about the experience of the music and the accompanying visuals.The compositions are melodic and the rhythms were interesting and energetic but not quite danceable.It's cinematic, as if this was the score to a film that we're making up as we go along.
After a short break between sets, the ballroom refilled quickly for Tycho's first appearance in Phoenix and the first night of the tour with Album Leaf.Once again, a synth noise proclaimed the start of the show before anyone took the stage. Stragglers outside raced through the door and into the dark room lit only by a blue-colored screen with white dots behind the stage and a light hitting a disco ball in the center of the room.
The crowd gets excited as Scott Hansen and his band walk on stage.He takes his place behind a collection of vintage synths as the drummer sits down behind him and another man picks up the bass guitar.The first song takes off with a thumping kick drum and a slow-motion underwater shot on the projector screen, and the energy in the room quickly heated up.
The first song ends to an enthusiastic roar from the audience and Hansen reaches back to pick up an electric guitar.Again, while Hansen is definitely not the focal point of the show since he doesn't sing at all, the artfully done projections and surprising intensity of the music on stage makes the show captivating, and knowing that Hansen is the man behind the camera as well makes the cohesive vision that much more impressive.
A desert scene appears on the screen and we see a long-haired girl in a white shirt leaving footprints across sand dunes.All of the visuals throughout the night had a sense of the ethereal.Most of the scenes were from the end of a surfboard or simply of waves crashing in slow-motion.After watching this, one might think that Hansen spends his free time channeling the music of the spheres from the middle of the ocean.
While the songs sounded faithful to the album versions to someone who has listened to Dive several times, there seems to be a touch of improvisation to the performance.Surely, Hansen is meticulous in his approach, but the songs feel more organic than those of someone standing at a laptop, and live bass and drums take the show far beyond typical ambient music, especially with the bass turned up so high.Tycho creates a euphoric atmosphere using organic rhythms, warm tones from vintage synths and ethereal visuals.
“We had a mellow day chillin in the sun,” Hansen states as he returns alone to the stage for the encore.After some casual banter about the holiday, he announces that the next song is a new piece, beginning with a chorusy synth sound and a starscape on the screen behind him.During this and the following song, we hear synthesized drums for the first time all night, accompanied by a shot of a man's legs on the giant screen.Afterwards, Hansen thanks Album Leaf and the crowd and the band joins him for one last song.
What is unique about both Tycho and Album Leaf is that their live show is an audiovisual experience as much as it is a concert, and thanks to the inclusion of live instruments, what would normally be a typical ambient shoegaze show is more intense and enjoyable to participate in.In Tycho's case, the show turned into something resembling a dance party.