Review of Tycho and Gardens & Villa in Cambridge, MA at The Sinclair on 4/17/2014
Gallery of my photos as well as video footage from the show
linked at the bottom of the page.
By Alec Hartman
It was April 17th and the conditions in Harvard Square outside the venue were unseasonably brisk with blustery winds and temperatures in the mid-30s, so even for a show that had been sold out since February there wasn't much of a line outside of The Sinclair. In fact, when I first arrived there was no line at all, and when I came back 20 minutes before 7 p.m. when the doors were scheduled to open I still only found less than 10 people in line. I joined them and after a frigid 20 minutes, the doors opened and I headed inside, past the merch table and directly up to and against the front and center of the stage in order to have the best angle for photographs. I found that there wasn't much competition for standing room near the stage though; nobody else rushed up to get the best view, and the atmosphere was very casual and laid back with people slowly filling in and talking to each other, checking out merch, ordering drinks, coming up to the stage to check things out and then leaving again to wander around or hang out with a group of friends elsewhere.
At sold out shows I'm accustomed to a mad dash for the best position as soon as the doors open, but that was not the case here at all, and as soon as Tycho began to perform I realized why: regardless of the venue, this was the kind of performance that you could watch and listen to from anywhere and still come away with the same experience. This wasn't about being closest to the musicians or getting the best view, it was about feeling the music and being a part of the mesmerizing and unique visual experience and soundscape Tycho's live show offers.
I'll rewind a bit though and talk about the crowd, as I believe this particular audience deserves a mention almost as much as the acts that played that night. After I entered the venue at 7, people gradually filled in the room over the next hour before the opening act, Gardens & Villa, took the stage. The room was fairly full by eight, but everyone was very respectful of everyone else and gave each other plenty of space, which, again, is something I'm unaccustomed to at sold out shows, especially when positioned at the front of the crowd. Being at a concert alone can be intimidating to some, especially so if you live many hours away from the area as I do, and getting weird looks and stares is not uncommon. Also not uncommon is rudeness from other members of the audience if you happen to be carrying camera equipment (as I often do at shows) due to the photo gear taking up more room or having them find it to be a distraction. However, the positivity of the vibe and atmosphere of that room was palpable even before either act took the stage, and there was nothing but total kindness and respect all around. I saw plenty of other people there alone (more so than most shows - maybe due to this one selling out so early?) and they all looked perfectly content. As for my being there with photo gear, people offered to hold onto my camera bag while I switched lenses, I had people step back and wave me over with a smile to let me through without me even asking simply if I looked over at a different area of the crowd when considering other angles to photograph, and other people offered to safeguard my spot for when I returned afterward. Maybe I've just been to shows with particularly rude audiences but this type of extremely generous behavior from literally everyone I came in contact with was quite a pleasant surprise and reinforced just how special a show this was.
Gardens & Villa
I don't believe that much of the crowd was all that familiar with the opening act, Gardens & Villa, but that didn't stop the audience from applauding and cheering heartily throughout their entire 40 minute set. I saw nothing but bobbing heads and smiles as I looked around the room. The one exception was a young woman who would scream "WOOOOOOOO" almost nonstop throughout all of their songs; it was hard to tell if she was exceptionally into the band, drunk, or both. She disappeared after Gardens & Villa's set was over or at least stopped screaming after that. The band, although having generally subdued and quiet music, gave a very intense performance with the lead singer getting exceptionally passionate and emotional at times, which both surprised and impressed me. The audience cheered for more at the end of their set and seemed truly to enjoy their music.
The second and final act of the night was Tycho, ambient musician Scott Hansen supported by a three-member backing band consisting of Joe Davancens (of the electronic/pop California band Doombird) on keyboard, synthesizer and bass guitar; Zac Brown on guitar and bass and Rory O’Connor on drums. The latter two contributed to the latest Tycho album, Awake, released on label Ghostly International in March 2014. The immediate thing I noticed was the total change in lighting inside the venue and on stage; while Gardens & Villa were bathed and heavily illuminated by overwhelming neon stage lighting, it was the polar opposite for Tycho's set. Hansen and each member of the band remained mostly in the shadows with very sparse stage lighting that would only occasionally illuminate them if they stepped into it just right. The reason for this was a giant projection on the back wall of the stage that ran film and still images continuously throughout their set and was clearly meant to be the primary visual focus to go along with the music rather than the actions of the performers themselves.
The visual effect worked perfectly in tandem with their music; all of the film and images projected were undeniably influenced by Hansen's art, photography and graphic design work if not created or shot by Hansen himself. The film and images being displayed included waves, surfers, birds, spirals, circles, clouds, triangles, obscured witches, wizards, washed out vintage footage, women's long flowing hair in the breeze and album art. These things may sound disconnected or random but it was all intertwined and absolutely his style. The same way every Tycho LP, EP and single is instantly physically recognizable by the aesthetic alone, the projections were all different yet entirely uniform and extremely fitting to the music.
Of course, as a photographer covering for a show this made it rather difficult to photograph performers who were mostly in shadow without using flash, which was not allowed and wouldn't have been appropriate for this particular performance anyway. To put it another way, Scott Hansen is known as ISO50 for his artwork and, forgive the photography pun, but there is no lens or camera on earth that would have been able to capture anything but blackness at "ISO50" when photographing Hansen that night without using an extremely long exposure. Reviewing my own photos, I had to shoot exclusively with the ISO cranked up to 12800, 16000, 20000 or higher, all with wide aperture lenses (two were f2.8, one was f1.4) and even those shots had to be below 1/80th of a second in order to capture anything in the darkness. I apologize to the readers unfamiliar with photography who may be utterly confounded by this paragraph, but I thought it was an interesting thing to note.
That being said, I believe the decision to keep the band members mostly in the dark was the correct one. The visual effects from the projector and the lack of prominent stage lighting made the already exceptionally soothing and relaxing live music a nearly hypnotic experience. I don't think it was possible not to be either utterly relaxed, captivated or both during Tycho's time on stage. They played an 80-minute set including a two-song encore and, in keeping with the “Awake Tour” title, played every song from their new album except for its final track, “Plains.” They also played favorites from their previous 2011 LP “Dive” as well as the fan favorite “Past is Prologue,” a track originally released a decade ago in 2004 on Tycho’s full-length debut. They added unique traits and twists to several of their live songs, adding in new additional parts not present on the album versions, which, as a fan of their work, was exciting to hear for the first time. They didn’t talk much in between songs other than Hansen commenting “It’s so good to finally be in Boston, we’ve been wanting to play here for a really long time,” to which someone in the crowd screamed, “We love you so much this show sold out!” And indeed, the majority of the dates on the Awake Tour still have tickets available and yet this one sold out over two months ahead of the date.
Judging by the crowd’s reaction, Boston wanted to see Tycho just as much as Tycho had been wanting to play there. When Hansen began to clap at one point to go along with the beat of the music it seemed as if every person in that venue was clapping in rhythm; I even saw the bartenders clapping along. At another point in between songs someone shouted out, "I love the way your music makes me feel!" which, while a fairly basic statement, seemed especially appropriate that night. After the show had finished I overheard someone say with a grin, "It was hard not to close my eyes," in that it was hard not to succumb to the music totally and let it take you over entirely. Or maybe hard not to close your eyes, let go, and have the music take you to the places the projector displayed and be utterly swept away.
My gallery of photos from this show can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lanimilbus2/sets/72157644191213102/
(Note: This is currently a gallery of some highlight shots of mine from that night. The rest of the photos I took at this show will be uploaded to this gallery in the future.)
Video footage I shot of Tycho's set:
Check out, listen to and purchase Tycho's music here:
Check out, listen to and purchase Gardens & Villa's music here: