August 2, 2011
The Detroit Bar
"Warning: This video contains strobe effects." The projector holds, then flickers to a cascade of rain droplets, ranging from deep blue to aquamarine, in an assortment of sizes. In front of the display, Dntel, clad in jeans and lime green polo, is beavering away behind a laptop and microphone, occasionally touching keys and buttons here and there, but for the most part remaining remarkably motionless for someone who's mid-performance. The crowd mirrors his lethargy, occasionally swaying lazily in time to the melody or bobbing bony kneecaps, tired from a long work day, liquor, the dim deep-blue bar lights, the roughly-11:20 p.m. start time and the two (albeit, very talented) openers before him--with only the occasional camera flash (my own) to upset the blanket of serenity. It makes for the kind of glassy-eyed calm that most performers dread--the hushed quiet indicating an audience's unwavering attention on the performer, the freakish focus on your every move, your facial expressions, your lime green polo.
Dntel, however--to his immense credit--was unfazed. As the audience trickled in and out of the stage area, circulating to the bar and the chairs, swelling and then dropping in size, Dntel segued from the tinkling "Aimless" off his After Parties 2 EP to ominous downer "Rock My Boat" calling The One AM Radio's frontman, Hrishikesh Hirway (a tall, stork-like man), to the stage to breathily (and unintelligibly) mumble the lyrics.
At first, it seemed the Detroit Bar was a disastrous venue to kick off the tour--many artists feed off of a crowd's energy, and laptop artists seem to especially rely on the dazzling effects of a light show to distract from the relative lack of movement on stage. Stripped of these advantages, Dntel could have bored the crowd into a zombie-esque Tuesday night snooze fest, but the artists' songs had the opposite effect--as "To a Fault" settled over the crowd, transporting listeners to a dark, alien world seemingly devoid of light, a sharp and interesting contrast to the relatively uptempo jams of openers The One AM Radio and Geotic's atmospheric tunes began to emerge. It was a testament to the tour's unique and fascinating combination of acts. It's a synergy they were expecting--"We actually put all our stuff in our tour bus the week before and drove it around to see how it would work," The One AM Radio's Fountaine Cole said, laughing. Turns out it works well.
The bar was the ideal kick-off point--its stripped-down look, the cozy lighting, squishy sofas and intimate 300-ish capacity fed each act's sound, blocking out every other potentially distracting element (save, of course, the booze--which was brightly illuminated).
The One AM Radio's set was a triumph, conjuring up images of sunny days spent lazing in the grass. The wallop that Hirway's buttery vocals and Cole's sultry ones packed during "In a City Without Seasons," the power behind the frenetic (and then suddenly slowed down) closing number "Everything falls apart" and the group's enthusiasm during catchy "An Old Photo of Your New Lover" (where Hirway busted out a maraca and shook it along to his peppy "Oh-Ohs") were unforgettable. Did I mention the maraca? Sold.
Dntel's own appreciation for the group became apparent, when, true to his word, he called Hirway up on stage to perform a second ditty and close out the show with the popular "(This is) the dream of Evan + Chan", trading out the less commanding "Lindsey" for "Evan + Chan"'s far more grandiose production.
Straight-faced, Dntel pushed out the music's final swells and the audience applauded. The smile then reappeared--this time, on every face around the room.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Critic's Bias: I own a few skinny jeans--dive bars are my natural environment.
The Crowd: 20-to-30-something hipsters
Overheard in the Crowd:
"All the musicians use laptops now"
"You gotta do one more song, we just got here and we're half the crowd!"
"We love you!"
Random notebook dump: N/A but my notebook did have an unfortunate run-in with some gin.
Dntel's set list
Rock my Boat (with Hirway)
To a Fault
To Go Beyond (Enya)
Fear Of Corners
(This is) The Dream of Evan + Chan (with Hirway)
The One AM Radio setlist
What You Gave Away
An Old Photo of Your New Lover
In A City Without Seasons
This Is a Document
Everyone But You
Everything Falls Apart
All new songs, except for Simple Hearted.