Gordi’s set at the Great Scott showcased all of the qualities that have made Reservoir such a highly anticipated release.
As Sophie Payten worked her guitar into a nonstandard tuning between songs, she graced the PBR-clutching crowd of the Great Scott with a story about her artistic pseudonym—Gordi. Beginning as a family in-joke, the moniker Gordi was something Payten initially tried to hide, being too shy to acknowledge her billed name at her early shows. “I was so embarrassed about it,” she giggled, “that I actually wouldn’t say who I was. I’d finish, and people would be like ‘We don’t know who you are, what’s your name?’ But I’m Gordi. I’m definitely keeping it now.”
Despite being tuning banter, this anecdote characterizes Gordi well. Her music takes personal experiences, ones that people commonly try to hide, and transforms them into something bigger, finding confidence along the way and making the intimate become as immersive as it is expressive. This confidence enveloped those in attendance on Monday night, holding everyone in a collective thrall during each moment of her 11-song set.
Much of this confidence seems to stem from her soon-to-be-released debut, Reservoir—a dynamic electro-acoustic collection of songs reminiscent of Sigur Rós, Imogen Heap and Jagjaguwar label-mates Bon Iver. If the six songs she unveiled from the new record are any indication, Gordi finds comfort in walking the line between folk and electronic experimentation as she did on her EP, Clever Disguise, but she does so now with a much richer and bolder step. Whereas a younger Payten might have been more reserved, the new Gordi on these songs is one that doesn’t shy away from big moments.
Fittingly then, Gordi began the set with a bang, launching into the explosive synthesizers, crashing cymbals and thunderous toms of two previously unreleased tracks from Reservoir. Cloaked with reverb and warped by electronic blips and modulations, the songs laid claim to a sonic territory between the cinematic swells of Explosions in the Sky and the digital smatterings of early Volcano Choir. Payten matched the songs’ soaring intensities with physical displays of passion, her hands dancing feverishly between chords and her eyes clutching tighter with each emotive phrase.
While the first two songs embraced a post-rock candor with Payten on her synthesizer, the next two retreated to the folksier climes of Clever Disguise. But even in the realm of folk, the band aimed for something larger-than-life. With the benefit of a live drummer, “Wanting” bounded with a feverish vigor, enlivening Payten’s contralto vocals in the chorus. “Nothing As It Seems” enrobed its folk-pop sound in clouds of reverb and digitized harmonies.
The next two songs embraced the Icelandic ethos Payten discovered while working with Sigur Rós’ Alex Somers on Reservoir. On “Bitter End,” Payten pitched high vocal loops à la Sigur Rós into the sonic zones of bands like the Staves and First Aid Kit. On “I’m Done,” a song that features S. Carey on the record, Payten pulled away from the microphone to let out echoic cries in the song’s melancholic chorus: “So many days, so many ways I could have said to you/ Oh boy I’m done.”
Payten returned to her synthesizer and vocal looping station for “Heaven I Know,” the most recent release off of the record. She began by dancing slowly in silence, her hand acting as a metronome against her chest, before she looped her dulcet whispers into an incantatory rhythm. The band layered sophisticated swells of piano and blossoms of synthesized brass over these meditative “One, two, three” loops. Even with such a layered arrangement, Payten’s voice took center stage, wrenching itself into more and more emotional tones as she crooned, “I got older/ And we got tired/ Heaven I know that we tried.”
Gordi brought the set toward its close with “On My Side,” the lead single from Reservoir, and “Can We Work It Out” from Clever Disguise. In as much as Gordi’s music tends to be borne out of melancholy, “On My Side” channeled the more vibrant spirit of Jónsi, which filled the Great Scott with joyous stomps and claps, vocal soars and looped coos. “Can We Work It Out” opened a powerful space of rhythmic tension and melodic pleas, soaring with her characteristic electro-acoustic grandeur.
After avoiding the contrived and awkward concert routine of leaving the stage and returning for an encore, Gordi remained in place to finish the set with a mournful rendition of Courtney Barnett’s “Avant Gardener,” to which the crowd responded with heaps of applause.
Altogether, Gordi’s set at the Great Scott showcased all of the qualities that have made Reservoir such a highly anticipated release. Swathes of synthetic loops and reverb made everything sound and feel big. Payten navigated such sonic spaciousness with fresh vocal directions. In contrast to her early shows, no one in Allston on Monday night had to ask her who she was afterwards. And with the pending release of Reservoir on August 25th, even more people will know the name Gordi.