Youth Lagoon Concert Review
El Rey – April 17
By Mac Crane
Ever since The Fall of Hibernation dropped in the fall of 2011, Youth Lagoon has become one of my favorite up-and-coming bands. With the recent release of Wondrous Bughouse, Youth Lagoon – the persona of 22-year-old Trevor Powers – has shifted from the minimalist bedroom feel of the first album to a swirling psychedelic journey backed by a full band. Their performance on Wednesday, April 17 at the El Rey proved that Powers can combine the tender introspection of the first album with the dizzying revelry of the second.
L.A.-based Lady Lazarus kicked off the night around 9 p.m. with a very mellow set. Perhaps too mellow. She sang beautifully over some delicate, reverb-heavy piano layering. I would describe her sound as sparkly mermaid lullabies. Very pretty, but a little too ambient and spacey at times. The intense reverb often muddied the notes and the result was an overwhelming monotone that tended to bury her sunny voice. It’s hard to say whether the sound was opaque on purpose, but after a few songs the audience began to lose attention. It would be great music to fall asleep to, and I mean that in the most positive sense. However, after being warmed up by the Elvis tunes in the classy El Rey, Lady Lazarus couldn’t captivate the crowd. By the end of her set, people were having conversations and ready for the headliner.
Despite the drowsy opener, the room came to life as soon as Youth Lagoon took the stage. The full band brought incredible energy to Powers’ tender melodies and their set felt like a bittersweet carnival ride from the beginning. The set was split pretty evenly between songs from the first and second album. Hibernation songs like “Afternoon,” “17,” and “Cannons” were totally transformed with the full band, but without losing the sense of contemplative wistfulness from the album. I was constantly impressed by how the songs often started with some delicate trailing notes before building to these incredibly profound, full-band explosions.
Powers’ child-like voice was captivating throughout the set. He could be totally somber one moment, and then frantically energetic the next. He spent most of the show hunched over his keyboard, shaking and bobbing in a loose cat-print shirt. His signature move was the emphatic twitch at the most essential notes, with his curly hair dangling in the rainbow lights. The stage itself looked like some kind of twisted circus tent, with multi-colored banners of various lengths lining the background. The band did a great job as well, especially the guitar player, who added little elaborations here and there to the whimsical melodies.
I was most entranced by the way Youth Lagoon combined eerie and reassuring sounds, often at the same time. From the new album, “Dropla” and “Raspberry Cane” were especially memorable. The newer songs were definitely more psychedelic, and it often felt like we were going through some sort of funhouse mirror. Yet, just when you think you’ll never escape the swirling crystalline bogwater, Powers’ sends forth one of his incredibly catchy melodies and everything is perfectly okay again.
I was already planning on seeing Youth Lagoon at the Sasquatch Music Festival in a few weeks, but I’m so glad I decided to see them in a smaller venue first. Now that he has the band, Powers is definitely ready for bigger shows, but there is something so tender and sentimental about his music that deserves a more intimate setting. The El Rey was an ideal venue for Youth Lagoon, who offered an ecstatic and heartfelt set to a very receptive crowd.