Every time that I’ve brought up Neon Indian’s live show, it’s been greeted with one of two reactions: fervent enthusiasm or apathetic dismissal. It’s understandable; even though Alan Palomo’s project focuses heavily on electronics and making video game beats, his music ultimately serves for a headphone setting better than that of a party.That said, Palomo’s notoriety has grown significantly in the past few months from his newest release, ”Era Extraña,” which featured the minor indie dance hit “Polish Girl.” Going from being an act mostly championed by in-the-know fans to a name minorly associated with partying carries certain additional pressures.So the question remains, can Neon Indian put on a crazy, fun show? The answer is yes, but in a way that differs from usual dance conventions.
Neon Indian's album "Psychic Chasms." (Courtesy Neon Indian)
As Palomo emerged onto the hazy stage with his five-person band, the first sounds of night came from the various synthesizer distortions and experimental loops created from at least five different keyboards at once. This psychedelic conception of noise slowly amped the room into a frenzy before the drums suddenly kicked in and Palomo led the group through a funky take of ”Local Joke,” off the album “Psychic Chasms.” The jam set the tone perfectly for the evening, conjuring up images of the ’80s keyboard blasting of bands like New Order filtered through a druggy haze of sound effects.
As drums pounded and synths flared, one evident weak point of the band’s live sound came through in Palomo’s voice. While on record his mid-range voice is distorted and fuzzed out to the point that it serves as more of a drone-like narrator than a prolific band leader, the lack of effects on his live voice unfortunately shows its lack of personality, or at least energy. Not to say that having a good voice and being a good singer are synonymous; they’re not. But the layers of distortion in the vocals are part of Neon Indian’s style, and including them would’ve helped to convey the band’s sound.
Regardless, Palomo’s talent as a songwriter and a soundsmith was showcased heavily throughout the evening, and songs like “Deadbeat Summer”, “6669 (I Don’t Know If You Know)” and “Hex Girlfriend” brought down the roof with countless shimmering hooks.
Leanne Macomber left her spot on keyboards at one point to lead the thumping bass stomp of “Fallout,” before Palomo literally commanded everyone to dance to the clubhouse jam of “Psychic Chasms.” In between songs, Palomo and friends would create additional walls of noise and effects, some standing alone as experiments and others slowly taking form as intros to songs, like the arpeggiating madness of “Mind, Drips.”
Palomo’s ability to take these psychedelic stoner jams and elicit the same kind of energy expected from a dance club was utterly impressive. However, during several moments the questionable mixing ended up hurting the momentum of the show. Songs like “6669 (I Don’t Know If You Know)” only had a small dosage of bass when the beats demanded for a crushing low-end. Also, the Gameboy solo in the middle of “Polish Girl” was barely audible, a small detail but one that nonetheless detracted from the show. It is entirely likely that these complaints stem from standing on the far side of the Bluebird’s floor level, a notorious dead spot for sound, but when you plan for an electronic show it should be expected that the floor is going to be stuffed with dancers.
The special thing about Neon Indian is that even though their sound is completely derivative and based around songwriting conventions of the ’80s and 2000′s, they still manage to carve out a unique identity for themselves, and this is entirely evident in their live show. Although the tags of “chillwave” and “lo-fi electronic” are usually associated with Palomo’s brand of music, there aren’t any other bands that capture the slacker vibe in quite the same way. While critics could undeniably argue that the band’s songs sound fairly similar from one to the next, the inventive sound experimentation paired up with dance beats that practically melt with color make them a hard band not to love.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Goldner at Samuel.Goldner@colorado.edu.