Washed Out is an American “chill synth-pop” musician who caught my attention in 2012 with the song “Before” from his 2011 release Within and Without. His song “A Dedication” remains one of my favourites to this day, so I was going into this show knowing what to expect sound-wise.
Upon arrival at the Danforth Music Hall, people were able to purchase tickets at the box office, indicating that it wasn’t going to be a full or sold-out crowd. Ten minutes before the opening act, the crowd was only one row of people on the edge of the stage and maybe fifteen people spread out along the floor. It was a severe case of “no one comes for the opener,” at least the worst I’ve seen at the Danforth yet. The age range was definitely the Millennial generation, maybe even younger, but there were a few older folks perhaps looking for a chill evening with some new music.
At 8:20 Bernice humbly walked onto stage. They are a five-piece band, consisting of two female singers and three males on different synth pads, keyboards, and backing tracks. Their songs dug deep with minimal electronic bass beats and quirky, dinging, popping noises. The girls were vocals only. After the first couple of songs, lead singer Robin Dann introduced the band, saying that they are from Toronto and that she grew up in the Danforth neighbourhood. She also said that she remembered when the Danforth was a movie theatre, “Anybody see any movies here?” The crowd was quiet except for one nodding man. Definitely a younger crowd. They continued with a couple more songs, one about “being a kid again; specifically being 2-7 years old” and “about a lonely swan.” The cute and innocent subject matter was appropriate for their dreamy and echoey vibe. Robin and her supporting vocalist Felicity Williams shared harmonies seamlessly throughout the songs, bopping lightly to the easy-listening music, sometimes synchronizing in movement. They have chemistry, but can also be separate entities in the songs. Some songs could be described as electronic jazz, but they also provided some dancier tracks as well.
The crowd was filling up during Bernice’s set. When Washed Out was supposed to come on stage, the venue was three quarters full, still with room to comfortably have personal space. Ernest, the face of Washed Out, was in the middle, with backing musicians on both sides including one to his left on the drums and synth percussions, and on his right a guitarist and keyboardist. They arrived on stage wearing all white. The lighting was provided only by a projector facing them directly and they had a white projection screen behind them. The images the projector projected were crafty, colourful, looping stock videos and images, like a scrapbook from a moody teenager, but in motion.
This band seemed like the type where the songs the would melt together and the looping images could go on forever. An image that reinforced the “stoner vibe” was a yellow and white pattern with “take a hit and get lost” typed in the middle. The images shown for each song were indicating the mood for each song. Early in the set, one of the songs had images of the names of the days of the week flashing by with a droned-out, low-pitched voice saying each day’s name. Eventually, the days flew by quickly and meshed together as the song slowly began. It reminded me of the feeling of days flying by quickly when your mind is slower, isn’t able to keep up, and you’re tired of it. Another notable thing about the images projected on the screen was when it would only be Ernest’s live silhouette moving.
One might complain that all their songs sound the same, and they kind of do, but it doesn’t matter because it’s mood music. The lyrics were difficult to understand because they were sung in a very drowned-out style, like an echo, but since the vocals are not a focal point in this music and are used more like an accompanying instrument, it works. Among others, they played the 2009 sleeper hit “Feel It All Around” from Life of Leisure album, “Amor Fati”from Within and Without, and in the three-song encore played “Eyes Be Closed.” It was a relaxing concert, so if you ever feel like staring at looping images with percussion-based synth-pop music supporting the “movie”, then I suggest catching Washed Out soon.
Written and Photographed by Vicki Mahony
*edited by Kate Erickson