Youth Lagoon enchants crowd with dreamy set
Published: Friday, September 20, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 20, 2013 02:09
When 24-year-old Trevor Powers took the stage at Cambridge’s The Sinclair on Tuesday night — his trademark curls draped haphazardly across his face — it was apparent how far he’s come in just two years. Powers, who performs under the stage name Youth Lagoon, first broke into the music scene in 2011 with his debut album “The Year of Hibernation,” an exercise in introspective, lo-fi dream-pop.
Now, as he cruises through a string of tour dates to promote his sophomore release “Wondrous Bughouse” (2013), Powers has made it clear that he’s vying for something more than the bedroom pop for which he’s known. Tuesday’s audience saw the familiar image of Powers hunched over his equipment, restlessly punching and clawing at the keys in deep concentration. This time, however, he was in the company of a four-piece rock band — making for a louder, heavier and more grandiose show than anyone could have expected. Bigger doesn’t always mean better, but the introduction of a full band certainly brought a new dimension to Youth Lagoon’s repertoire — without sacrificing the original hypnotic charm of the songs.
Kicking off the set with two tracks from “Bughouse,” and later transitioning into a single from “Hibernation,” Youth Lagoon demonstrated onstage versatility right from the start. The band managed to balance the jarring “Attic Doctor” and “Sleep Paralysis” with long-time fan-favorite “Cannons,” a daintier tune that was, paradoxically, ushered in by ominous distortion then enthusiastic cheers from the audience once the bright piano melody became audible. The fluidity of this three-song stretch set the precedent for the rest of the show: The set list drew from both of Youth Lagoon’s records (although newer songs topped the count), showcasing the young artist’s ability to seamlessly reconcile the stylistic and thematic differences of his two LPs.
Even more impressive was the live reproduction of lush studio arrangements. The ambitious, reverb-heavy production on “Bughouse” ran the risk of sounding jumbled when performed live, but the band was able to keep the album’s many layers intact. Throughout, Powers used his nasally, high-pitched voice to inject emotion into the songs, his singing ranging from forceful to sensitive, piercing to brooding. The pounding instrumentation on louder numbers occasionally muffled his voice — making it hard to hear the lyrics — yet the soaring (and accessible) instrumental melodies easily made up for his somewhat muted vocals.
The show’s peak came mid-set with the band’s performance of “July,” a slow building number that swelled into something much greater than the song’s studio version. This was perhaps the most effective use of the live band — with support, Powers was able to achieve a level of intensity in the song that wouldn’t have been possible had he performed solo. Driving drums, accompanied by a vaulting vocal line, created momentum and steadily guided the track forward in its crescendo. All the while, flashing lights in the background mimicked the lyrical imagery of “explosions pillaging the night.”
“July” was essentially a microcosm of Youth Lagoon’s bursting-at-the-seams approach to the evening. Time and again, timid starts gave way to sprawling catharsis, which usually led to a final calm exhale. Between the head-bobbing waves of sound that enveloped the club, there was always time to breathe — just another reason why the performance was so successful.
Other highlights included an extended version of “Dropla” — a dark tale of mortality tempered by a ringing, childlike melody — and a high-spirited crowd sing-along to “17.” The set capped off at almost an hour and a half, with the band returning to the stage for a one-song encore: “The Hunt.” An apt choice to close out the show, the song featured a combination of drums, synthesized beats and smooth guitar riffs that had the audience grooving until the very last note.
The only major weakness of the show was Youth Lagoon’s diminutive stage presence. Aside from a few brief remarks, Powers made little effort to connect with the crowd. In an intimate venue like The Sinclair, this lack of conversational banter was incredibly noticeable — sometimes even alienating. Additionally, the band’s stage movement was meager at best; for the most part, players stayed put in their own individual corners. Even so, Powers’ stiff and awkward motions from behind his fortress of equipment were endearing and didn’t significantly detract from the performance.
Youth Lagoon’s stop in Cambridge this week was a sign of Powers’ growth and maturity as a songwriter, arranger and performer. He has just begun to look outward, beyond the confines of his bedroom. The result is live orchestrations that are loud, powerful and demand to be heard. He’s still the curly-haired boy from Boise, Idaho, with a penchant for psychedelic electro-pop — he’s just cranked it up a few notches.