Porches with Japanese Breakfast and Rivergazer
October 5th, 2016 at The Sinclair
By: Robert Kerstens and Shannon O’Dwyer
Touring in support of their newest release, Pool, Porches came to The Sinclair on October 5th to deliver an hour long set of dreamy synthpop in front of a sold out crowd. The stage was decorated with two vases of plastic flowers, which occasionally found their way into the audience, providing a matching faux floral backdrop ideal for the synthetic yet organic sounds that dominated the night’s aural atmosphere. The house music was a playlist of Arthur Russell welcomed the crowd to the floor, prefacing the night with inspiration of avant-garde yet minimalistic attitude that well represented Porches and their entourage. Warming up the stage was Rivergazer and Japanese Breakfast, effectively setting the scene for the laid-back set to come.
Rivergazer was the first to take the stage, offering a sparse auditory palette composed of just two men in contrasting black and white t-shirts playing synths and bass over prerecorded backup tracks. Thumping bass riffs carved through viscous synths, providing the backdrop for slightly auto-tuned vocals. While the mood presented was coherent, the songs were often short and ended before they were fully developed. Songs frequently sounded hollow, in need of deeper layering to enrich the sonic landscape. Despite this deficit, Rivergazer brought plenty of charm to the stage, closing their set with a dancefloor banger that saw the lead vocalist singing into a flower before flinging it into the outstretched arms of the audience.
Fifteen minutes later, Japanese Breakfast took the stage to fill the musical void with their shoegazy, lo-fi indie rock sound. The audience quickly fell in love with frontwoman Michelle Zauner’s charm, whose dreamy distant vocals blended into the wall of sound. The band played their new album Psychopomp front to back, making many new fans along the way. The set was rife with angst, feral howls, and a melancholy nostalgia. Surf guitars occasionally shredded through the fuzz, especially on the track “Everybody Wants to Love You”. When freed from her guitar, Michelle danced infectiously around the stage. Among the set’s highlights was a spirited cover of The Cranberries’ “Dreams” that got the audience singing along, a tribute to a clear influence on the Japanese Breakfast sound.
Watching Porches set up the stage, the crowd grew increasingly restless. Suddenly, the lights dimmed low and the audience went nuts. When Rihanna’s “Needed Me” unexpectedly came on to set the scene, the crowd was feverish as the lead singer of Porches finally took the stage, bringing with him the keyboardist from Rivergazer to jam along on the guitar. The synthetic sounds of Rihanna’s hit song were a surprisingly fitting introduction for the shimmering sounds to come, bringing the energy of the crowd to its boiling point. The following track was “Glow”, a song with a simple baseline and distant harmonies. The Nyquil haze of the performance quickly settled over the Sinclair. An astute fan nearby could be heard memorably observing that Aaron Maine, the lead singer and man behind the magic, appeared to be “doped up on Xanax”. It was true, he was incredibly soft spoken and often mumbled unintelligibly into the microphone like a shy toddler. His stage presence was meek, although he made up for it with his sheepishly adorable personality and disaffected middle school dance moves. At one point he proclaimed that it was time to “coax the freak out” of the audience, a tall task considering the tranquility of the set as a whole. However, the crowd was more than willing to loosen up and let their inner freak do its thing.
Throughout the night, the supporting band members often exchanged glances and side smiles right before a chorus or bridge, giving the concert the feel of a jam session between friends rather than a formal concert. Halfway through the set, a cowboy hat amusingly appeared and bounced from head to head around the stage. Meanwhile, the ’80s aesthetic of the performance was suffocatingly overt, from Aaron’s bleached blonde hair, plain white tee, and his dad’s rolled up denim pants, to the glowing synth keys and slick coat of reverb drenching every sound. At the same time, the music took many cues from modern electronic and techno musicians, with the song “Be Apart” reminding me particularly of Caribou. However, in a departure from the mechanical beats found on Pool, the percussion was live and visceral, with impressive drum fills throughout that added humanity to the chilling sounds of the evening. The last song of the night was my personal favorite, “Underwater”, with rippling synths and slippery bass that just makes you want to float on your back in a swimming pool on a cloudy day.
The show was a unique, melancholy experience that allowed Porches’ drowsy synthetic sounds to truly resonate with the entranced crowd. I left feeling much like I would after a long afternoon of sitting in the sun, not particularly moved, but deeply tranquilized with the waves of music that swayed to a close. Porches strayed from a traditional set and instead created a soothing overcast continuum of sound that seeped into the souls of his adoring fans.