With stiff competition from Vampire Weekend over at the Pageant, Plush's floor had plenty of comfortable space between bodies with minimal bumping into one another. Still, those bodies listened intently to the piano that began Youth Lagoon's sojourn into the comfortable queer.
That pointed, 20th-century minimalist piece sounded enough like an interlude on "Wondrous Bughouse" that it melded well with the stage setup. A half dozen fabric cones rose from the stage floor to illuminate with different color sequences: moonlight blue, absinthe green, sherbet orange and peach. Placed before them was a corner of Nord synths, a SPD drum pad and an analog keyboard: maestro Trevor Powers' equipment for the night. Tweaked slightly by stagehand (and O' Giant Man lead singer) Christopher Robbins, Powers' instruments doubled from his last show in St. Louis.
In April of 2012, at the Firebird, Powers came with two synths and guitarist Logan Hyde in tow. He looked comfortable behind his set-up and did not venture out from it. Sequestered by his tools, he played an emotionally involved set that zoomed through "The Year of Hibernation." Last night, Powers diatonic textures were represented by two added members: a touring bassist and a drummer. The set focused on Powers' second album, "Wondrous Bughouse."
Powers, a former English major, writes albums like novels. They are centered on a period of emotional duress that manifests as art with tangible, obvious themes. To wit, "Wondrous Bughouse" circumvents the distorted and dreary feeling of ongoing anxiety bubbling in "The Year of Hibernation" to bolt through the demons of mortality with polychromatic Beatles-chord progression heavy numbers that swirl with playful distortion. Powers' emotional quotient is not measured by a number, but the ebullience of his prismatic chord progressions and musical fortitude.
Omnipresent live were the simple chord structures that Powers uses to show ambivalence. The band compounded simple elements in numbers like "Sleep Paralysis" to create thick sonic walls of fugal harmony. "Sleep Paralysis" began with a hypnotic synth patch that plummeted into a aural valley of discombobulated percussion and effects-drenched guitar. During this song, Powers escaped the confines of his synth corner to breach the top of the stage. Like a mad scientist, his black hair mangled by tour filth and his eyes shooting wide like bolts of electricity seemed to shock his wiry frame. He untangled his sinewy voice into a hellish squall and unleashed a ferocious reincarnation of "Wondrous Bughouse"'s dizziest composition.
Powers dipped into "The Year of Hibernation" here and there. When he did, the contrast between his two records was defined by tone of the presented work. "July" was as washed with torment as it was an aural dreamscape. Touring drummer Greg Rogers provided militant fills that stiffened "July"'s withered synth. "Dropla" reduced the audience to a vibrating thrall of chatty, chanting patrons. "Wondrous Bughouse"'s lead single seemed the most recognizable to the crowd and Powers' soundman reacted accordingly. The volume levels appeared to reach the eleven level and form a dome of kaleidoscopic progressions over the crowd, suddenly bonded to Powers' sentiment: "You'll never die."
Powers and band left the stage for a brief moment after "Mute." They returned for an encore of "Hunt" off "The Year of Hibernation." "The Hunt" pounded with determination, like a sprinter with his eyes on the finish line. It sounded fresh, like lungs taking in their first gasp of air. "The Hunt" thumped with a kinetic, pulsating rhythm that livened the crowd into a bopping collection of bobble heads.
When Powers and company left the stage for the last time, the room felt elevated from the bewildering, stacked progressions. When he came to the Firebird last year, with his humanistic tales of depleting emotions, the feeling was similar. Youth Lagoon's magnanimous tales of doing battle with cerebral kinks were empowering then and now. At Plush, however, Youth Lagoon simply slayed whatever dragons impeded the path to an even better night.