It was clear things would be ending better than they began when I showed up in Williamsburg for the last day of Northside Festival. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits thanks to a false weather forecast — we showed up on Sunday expecting more rain and got surprised with a pretty nice day. Not that it mattered once you got to the dark, dingy Cameo Gallery for a showcase culminating with Light Asylum’s stunning performance. If you haven’t been to the Cameo Gallery it deserves a little bit of explanation. Walking in makes you feel like a character in Goodfellas as you move to the back of a crowded bar, go down a hallway past the kitchen and finally find an unmarked white door splotched in paint. Go through and you’re in another world. A small intimate space that’s dimly lit at best – it’s exactly the kind of venue you’d want to see a group like Light Asylum, whose music sounds like it was born in this sort of environment.
Waiting for the first performance to begin I looked around and saw maybe only nine people were there…wait no, ten? I almost didn’t notice the extra person, a strange figure sitting across the room completely covered in black material. Glove, mask, hood – material so black he blended in with the wall and seemed almost invisible. This I soon realized as the wraithlike shape moved onto the stage was Benny Boeldt, better known as Adventure. While the Wham City artist’s early sound often reminded me of Capcom’s classic Megaman soundtracks, his new material is something darker and stranger. Dense and aggressive, Adventure still retains some of that old video game sound, but it’s mutated — gone rotten — in the best way possible. His bright melodies and pounding glitchy noise struggled back and forth in way that was captivating throughout the short set. It was so entrancing, in fact, that when stepping out for a cigarette I was completely caught off guard and blinded by the blaring sun…oh right it’s still day-time in the real world.
I came back in as O Paradiso was starting, this was their first show as a four piece, and a pretty early show in general considering the band is only a few months old. Maybe it was an off night, but I was left thinking for a band with so much energy, and so much variety they ended up sounding bland with glimmers of potential. The jerky, abnormal percussion got the audience interesting, and the best moments were when they balance a certain creepiness with their sweet melodies. It’s moments like those that make me think they just need some time (and practice) to let the unique flavors blend and mellow so to speak. I’ll be keeping an eye on them.
Psychic Twin is a band that’s been getting some attention lately. They played SXSW this year, and they helped shift the night into a dancier, dreamier atmosphere. Lead singer Erin Fein is front and center, joined by Jon Sommer and Brett Sanderson (one on each side) providing propulsive drumming and synths. The chugging, punching drum beats are heavier than I initially expected, and they’re counterpointed by Fein’s candy-like keyboard melodies and gorgeous voice. One of the most memorable moments of the night was their final song, where Fein asked the happily obliging audience to come closer to the stage. It was a perfect image to end on: Fein with her voice soaring, Sommer and Sanderson on either side beating the hell out of those pads to an excited crowd, all while little green stage lights split apart and reformed around them like fireworks on a loop.
After the building momentum Psychic Twin had brought to the night it was Young Magic’s job to slow things down a little before the big headlining finish. With their foggy amorphous mesh of samples and synths punctuated by heavy drums played with mallets, the set worked as a sort psychedelic breather for the crowd. Part of their light, looser sound was due to the unexplained absence of their third member, but the band managed just fine and they pulled in the biggest crowd of the night. All of this felt like a build-up though to the final act of the night. A band that’s built a reputation for their live show, but a reputation I find frustrating. When you hear about Light Asylum, and in particular their vocalist Shannon Funchess you hear the same phrases: they’re aggressive, she’s such an intimidating vocalist, she’s menacing…this is usually followed by a combination of the words “post”, “cold”, “dark”, and “wave”. Even though these descriptions call the band great, it can sometimes distract just how great Light Asylum is.
Because that’s the thing, Funchess is not just a couple variations on the words “cold,” she’s one of the most dynamic singers I’ve seen in a very long time. Seeing her perform live you’ll realize that she can be warm, funny, sexy, desperately sad, and nearly demonic, sometimes over the course of one song. Her charisma is overwhelming, and rather than alienating the audience with her intensity she pulls you in with intimacy. As the duo played through song after song of pulsing heavy synth music the audience couldn’t keep still. This was actually a smaller crowd than Young Magic pulled in, not by a lot, but it didn’t matter when nearly every person in the audience was dancing, swaying, and responding to every move Funchess made. After the show a friend described Light Asylum as a cult band, and I would agree. They’ve been around for a several years now and while they never seem to play to a huge crowd, they play to a dedicated one. After last night’s show I think it’s about time they start showing a bigger crowd what they can do, they deserve it.