Dang. This was one of the best shows I’ve been to in a minute and it didn’t look like it was gonna work out that way. At all. I was hating on the super wack crowd from the get. Even though Ernest Greene, a.k.a. WASHED OUT, was essentially DJing what had to be the dopest jam anywhere Sunday night, the crowd was still stagnant and observing like a bunch of wack wall flowers. It’s definitely because Greene just hit play and ran the tracks through his instruments while dancing behind them. He sang, which is great cuz he’s what we came for, and it was already way better than his CMJ show at Santos Party House last year, where he literally hit play on his lap top and went at it. It sounded fuller this time around. Maybe cuz he used his actual machines, I don’t know. Something was better. Maybe cuz he was dancing I don’t know. But the beginning of this show felt different than the last time he was here. It felt better and more promising even though the crowd was at a stand-still.
The music was banging and Greene was lowering his shoulder and getting at it on the stage. There was a blinding ring of LED fire behind him, and the sound was phenomenal. But still, people were just standing there, just like they did the last time he came to NY. It could have been because the crowd had just finished a good set by a full band, SMALL BLACK from Brooklyn, who closed out with Bad Lover, one of the best songs from last year. But people were probably just standing still this time for the same reason they stood still last time: he just hit play and went at it. People like myself can purge expectations and recognize the beauty in what it is: it’s WASHED OUT, an act with ridiculously sick compositions, blasting them live through excellent equipment, sounding excellent, while singing through a wall of electro haze. Some of us let it wash over us and embraced another one of those sick dance parties that happen when a top-shelf act and the right crowd get together on the right night. This didn’t look to be that night, or that crowd. But that didn’t stop those of us who know a good thing when we see it, even if it ain’t what we expect or necessarily want.
Greene was going through a lot of his tracks from the High Times cassette tapes, which sounded amazing live and are really great dance tracks. And Greene was dropping some unfarmiliar stuff in there. It wasn’t from Life of Leisure or High Times, and I’d never heard it before. If that was new material, WASHED OUT has some absolutely off the chain new shit. I mean some real hot fire. Greene dropped at least a handful of songs I didn’t recognize last night, and each one kept pushing the party farther.
Then Greene made an announcement; the announcement of the night came. Greene said into the mic, “SMALL BLACK’s gonna come up in a second, I only have one more song alone.” Few were expecting this, more didn’t even consider it. But it was finally happening. WASHED OUT, a talent virtually unparallelled in the world of ambient glo-fi, struggling to blow up because of a stale, one man / one play-button live act, was about to perform with a full band! With a drummer, a bassist, a back up singer and a synth player. This had the makings of something amazing and the crowd immediately perked up. Many even began to dance to the last solo track, which, if I’m not mistaken, was a vocals-free version of SMALL BLACK’s Despicable Dogs that Greene remixed last year. People knew what was coming, so they kinda let loose for once, getting over the fact that for a bit it was just a dude, his play-button and his mic, and getting into position for what was about to come. And it came real hard. WASHED OUT and SMALL BLACK are absolutely amazing together. Amazing. Greene should just absorb them. I’m serious.
I don’t know what you’d call them, maybe BLACKED OUT, but this shit was off-the-chain fire like we rarely see. According to Josh Kolenik , lead singer of SMALL BLACK, they hadn’t even practiced a full week. This was their first show together. Ever. I don’t know if it was WASHED OUT’s first show with a band, but it better not be his last because if he can get in front of unaware audiences with this act, he’s gonna get a lot more fans. His music is phenomenal and the disconnect has been from Greene hitting play and offering just the album versions of his tracks, which we’ve heard a billion times. It’s awesome to hear him sing, that’s true, and it’s fun to watch him dance. But it’s not enough of a live experience to get many to move, and that’s why WASHED OUT’s audiences have been so kinda like frozen.
BLACKED OUT stuck mostly to material from Life of Leisure, Right Hear’s #9 album of 2009, and only played about 4 or 5 songs as they clearly hadn’t practice for too long. But those songs were so tight and sounded amazing, largely because SMALL BLACK are clearly excellent musicians. Especially bassist Juan Pieczanski, who essentially makes this whole thing magical. You don’t realize how great Greene’s basslines are until you hear them played live, because even though Pieczanski is very talented, it’s Greene’s compositions that hang differently in the air. But in Pieczanski’s capable hands these tracks soar. Most notably were ear stallwarts Hold Out (Kolenik’s self proclaimed favorite) and Feel it All Around, which is just clearly the best song in Greene’s repertoire, whether it’s heard amongst other recordings or live as an perfect-fit closer.
I can’t say enough good things about WASHED OUT’s live show with SMALL BLACK. It was absolutely stunning. You always knew because of those compositions that Greene had it in him. It’s just so fucking good to see that it actually came out. Greene even recognized it, at one point commenting, “isn’t it so much better with a band?!” Sucks that tonight’s show is sold out. Those with tickets tonight are in for something amazing. At this point the surprise is ruined, but at least you can dance the entire time now. And you should probably bring sunglasses. You’ll see why.
by: Brad Horenstein
WASHED OUT w/ SMALL BLACK: Feel it All Around