Filed under: Scene Around Town | Tags: concert review, fever ray, Ladyboys, Little Dragon, machine dreams, Scene Around Town, show review, The Knife, The Smash Brothers, Westcott Theater
PREVIEW: VISIT Little Dragon’s Website
Westcott Theater was cold and empty. Little Dragon, a synthy Swedish quartet, attract blog hype, but didn’t rope in more than 60 Syracuse residents to the Friday night show, leading to a general impression of awkward sparseness. Zach James, a member of supporting act Ladyboys (not to mention one half of The Smash Brothers), performed a long DJ set as if expecting a sudden rush of latecomers. Reinforcements never arrived, but the small crowd thankfully grouped toward the front of the stage as proceedings began.
Zach James was joined onstage by bandmates Beccah Avraham and Jacob Leon (the other half of The Smash Brothers), and Ladyboys’ set began. Ladyboys, an electronic act holding local ties, were a charming and nerdy onstage presence. While displaying a somewhat shaky and amateurish musical temperament, they played their way vibrantly through a collection of surprisingly sophisticated tracks that drew on hip-hop and dance influences. The set was commendable for the interplay among the distinctive personalities and musical abilities of the three band members, and for the forays the group took into rap and live vocal manipulation.
Although the crowd seemed to contain a noticeable contingent of friends of the band, those familiar and those unfamiliar with Ladyboys were won over by the trio’s unique sensibilities. A surprising set highlight came from a collaboration with singer Kimanii, who nailed dance hooks with ease and with an out-of-place reggae flavor that somehow worked within the context of the night.
Ladyboys wrapped up in a hurry, and the time soon came for headliners Little Dragon to take over. The art-rockers, who initially attracted a cult fan base as a result of the distinctive R&B tinge of their self-titled debut, seemed to have shed a majority of their soulful edge for the night, settling instead on an icy pop sound reminiscent of fellow Swede Fever Ray.
The result was a little unexpected, but nonetheless impressive. The band played thoughtfully gracefully through complicated rhythmic material, at times coming off as an adult-contemporary Deerhoof. “We play everything live,” boasted frontwoman and star-of-the-show Yukimi Nagano. The small, but clearly dedicated audience danced enthusiastically throughout the set and politely retorted Nagano’s stage banter. Her statement that the show was the band’s first in Syracuse inspired shouts of “Thank you!”
In spite of these demonstrations of energy and technical facility, Little Dragon’s set was marked with a sense of detachment from the audience. The material, while well-performed, lacked spontaneity and occasionally came off cold, undoubtedly owing in part to the shift in sound of their newest album, August’s Machine Dreams, away from their soulful debut. Nagano’s trademark smoky voice, which works best when perched just above the instrumental texture, was not given ample opportunity to stand out through the driving dynamic of the full band.
These feelings of impersonality climaxed as the band denied the crowd’s request for an encore. Fans who had hung expectantly by the stage front eventually gave up and made their way toward the exits, as “Heartbeats” by The Knife fittingly blared through the PA. While Little Dragon clearly trump openers Ladyboys in terms of musical maturity and technical prowess, perhaps they could take a page from Ladyboys’ book in the “engagement-of-audience” department. Ladyboys’ pleasant and off-beat demeanors shone through a night of well-rehearsed, but aloof showmanship.
— Kevin Hegedus
— Photos by Alyssa Stone