Youth Lagoon: Live

Photo credit: Michael Roffman

Wednesday, April 4, 2012/ The Metro/ Chicago, IL

By: Jack Stein

* * *

After debuting as Youth Lagoon with the heart-wrenching The Year of Hibernation last September, Trevor Powers of Boise, Idaho has been busy bringing his tender hymns out of the bedroom and into a live setting. After reading less-than-stellar appraisals of his budding live show at SXSW a few weeks ago, I was excited yet apprehensive to see firsthand how the transition was going.

The expected growing pains for a young artist were all there. The mixing was much too heavy on the bass, the booming tones often completely obscuring Powers’ frail and intimate voice. Not that I expected much improvisation from such a seemingly regimented and structured act, but the songs sounded exactly as they did on record; lower-fidelity and louder, for sure, but still the same, following their formula to a tee (gently twinkling intro + Powers’ fragile vocals + louder chorus with unintelligible lyrics + something resembling a beat + fade out.) What resulted was a pleasant set from a pleasant act that clearly isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel.

However, one thing saved this from being a bit too vanilla: Powers is a hell of a songwriter. While his confidence onstage and improvisational skills will surely improve with experience, he already is a fully-formed pop auteur. These tracks all bear their wounded, beating heart right on the sleeve, with the garbled sonics and Powers’ art-damaged vocals keeping things from seeming too maudlin. “Cannons” prompted a few sing-alongs, while the lilting backbeat to “Daydream” elicited half-hearted dancing from the self-conscious crowd. As with a lot of music constructed on laptops these days, it’s more about the feeling that is evoked rather than what Powers is actually yelping about, rendering his vocals just another instrument.

Impressively, Powers even knew when and how to wrap things up properly, calling it a night after a brisk eight-song set by closing with the masterful “July”, the single that introduced his bare-bones beauty to the blogosphere last summer. The rousing bridge, complete with Powers’ most affecting vocal performance in the Youth Lagoon canon, was enough to raise some goosebumps and send the couples-heavy crowd into a sea of tender embraces.

Leaving the venue, I sensed that some were left cold by the brief, by-the-numbers set. However, I was left eagerly anticipating what this guy has in store next. Artists whose aesthetic is so fully formed at a young age typically go one of two ways; with his impressive knack for pop songwriting and keen sense of dynamics and mood, I’d bet on Powers filling concert halls larger than The Metro not long from now.

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