Concert “firsts” are always exciting and memorable; whether it’s a first concert, a first festival or even simply the first time seeing a particular genre live. Neon Indian and Com Truise at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel was to be my first live music experience in Washington D.C., the city that I only recently began to call home.
Com Truise took the stage right on time to a room that wasn’t nearly full yet. Seth Haley’s initial greeting of, “What up, D.C.?!” was received with a roar, but turned out to be the extent of Com Truise’s efforts to pump up the crowd. They proceeded to give an incredibly unanimated performance. Haley did little more than nod his head as he played cuts from both Cyanide Sisters and Galactic Melt. He wore a frown that might have been the product of concentration, but came off as disinterest or even lethargy. Even through bass-heavy, energetic cuts like “VHS Sex” the crowd did little more than nod their heads as well.
During the nearly hour and a half wait between bands, the surprisingly low ceilings made the sold-out show feel claustrophobic. Finally, at around 11:30, Neon Indian frontman Alan Palomo took the stage alone behind his complex looking array of electronic music equipment. He launched into a buzzing, distorted electronic intro, during which his backing band took their places around him. They began with a beefed-up, rocked-out version of “Terminally Chill,” in which the subdued “Aaahh aaahh” vocal layer of the original cut became more akin to a chorus, shouted by the crowd at the top of their lungs. The live versions of other cuts from Neon Indian’s Psychic Chasms showed a similar striking contrast to their album originals. Rather than delivering a carbon copy of the so-called “chillwave” brand of electronic pop on the band’s 2009 debut, songs like “Deadbeat Summer” and “Mind Drips” were amplified into more infectious and propulsive live versions.
Palomo certainly did his part in keeping the crowd engaged. Wearing a black “The Process” T-shirt, he moved emphatically around the stage with a shoulder swaying, side-to-side shimmy. As the show went on it became clear that this was the only dance move in his arsenal. In between each song, Palomo filled the space by noisily improvising on his electronic equipment. This had the powerful effect of intensifying the already enthusiastic ovations of the crowd.
The set was evenly split between cuts from Psychic Chasms and Era Extraña, Neon Indian’s recently released sophomore effort. The glam-rock influenced tracks “Hex Girlfriend” and “Fallout” sounded bigger than the album versions. The wordless chorus of “Hex Girlfriend” had the audience jumping up and down and singing in unison. The bombastic synth of Era Extraña standout “Polish Girl” got the biggest crowd reaction and inspired about as much dancing as was possible in the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd.
The only aspect of Neon Indian’s music that didn’t translate well from album to live was Palomo’s vocals. He had trouble getting his normally airy voice to match the raucousness of his live act. While he certainly tried his best to belt “Polish Girl’s” chorus of “You fail to remember,” his vocals didn’t quite register at a high enough volume. What Palomo lacked in vocal chops he made up for in charisma. At the beginning of “6669 (I Don’t Know If You Know),” there were technical difficulties that halted the set for a few minutes, yet Palomo mitigated the crowd’s irritation through sheer charm. He jokingly asked the crowd if they had any quarters for the band’s equipment and compared the feeling of the lights coming on at a show to that of a cop’s flashlight shining into the backseat of one’s parked car.
As lively as Neon Indian’s performance was, they seemed to be in hurry to leave. After the final cut, “Heart: Decay,” the band left the stage for only about a minute and a half before returning for the encore, forgoing the customary suspense build. The encore was also only one song, a peppy rendition of “Should Have Taken Acid with You.” The crowd didn’t seem to mind, as the chatter about the show was cheerful as everyone dispersed to the surrounding bars. I was anxious to join, as discussing a show over beers is the best way to really get to know a new city’s concert scene.
(Photo: Brennan Schnell)