all photos: Nick Balleza
all words: Marcus Dowling
Fool’s Gold Records’ top tier electro funk revivalists Chromeo returned to DC with openers The Suzan and MNDR for two performances at the 9:30 Club on Saturday and Sunday night.
The band, making their second stop in six months at the venue, is still on a non-stop touring cycle for latest release Business Casual, a more moderately kitschy yet just as accessible mainstream take on a sound that’s just a few years older than the median age of their average fan. Saturday night’s show was an excellently executed performance that, while not inspiring feats of rabid absurdity, certainly more than met expectations.
Their formula, which blends the skills of P-Thugg as a talk box, keyboard and synthesizer wunderkind and utilizes Dave-1′s talents in re-appropriating power chords from the realm of 80s pop, is magical. The key to Chromeo’s success lies in the fact that Zapp and Roger never ascended to Chromeo’s realm of pop and that Frank Stallone never descended to Chromeo’s level of funk. It’s one of the great joys of the band being wholly a development of the hipster era that the meld of these two intrinsically dance friendly styles could occur in full in a manner most mainstream.
Opening acts Japanese power punk quartet The Suzan and New York electro ingénue Amanda Warner of MNDR did exactly what they were meant to do. Give the crowd a jolt of energy to prepare them for the heavy hitting wave of Chromeo as the closer. The Suzan have advanced far in the past seven years, arguably now as Japan’s top pop/punk export, their debut album on NYC’s Fool’s Gold imprint Golden Week for the Poco Poco Beat shows them with a sound definitely geared towards the indie pop audience. Their performance was certainly exciting and I fully expect them to succeed in their progression through the underground ranks.
MNDR’s an entirely different story. The act is a duo of Amanda Warner and Peter Wade, though Wade was not present. Warner’s recent turn on Mark Ronson and the Record Collection’s latest album “Bang Bang Bang” caused a major stir, and was a bit of a stylistic deviation for the art pop singer. Warner, wearing glowing glitter spectacles of against a projected background, certainly could’ve had a better like performance. It was strong, featuring a ton of material from her first 7″ EP and 12″ release, but with a first quarter 2011 album expected, really didn’t blow me away. Yes, she had a dead microphone, but as a young performer she didn’t appear comfortable or able to connect with an audience distracted by their anticipation of the headliner. Possibly seeing her somewhere like Rock and Roll Hotel that allows for intimacy and focus would allow for a stronger performance.
Headliner Chromeo keeps polishing their act into what will one day be a real gem. This summer’s performance felt bloated and trite, almost like watching a Zapp and Roger cover band playing Chromeo songs. P-Thugg’s excellent. The rotund mastermind of the talk box feels at home in this element, and while a dominant talent really does quite well in fitting in and not overwhelming an ensemble performance. Dave-1 improves in skill and confidence as a front man every time I see him.
It’s in his 80s power licks and vocals where the branding of Chromeo as something more than the Hall and Oates or Alexander O’Neal appreciation society wholly rests, and while not entirely up to the challenge, he has improved. The inclusion of three backup singers attired in a manner similar to Robert Palmer’s iconic “Addicted to Love” video certainly helped in the vocal department, but had their microphones somewhat muted in comparison to those of Dave-1, and were often overpowered in the live mix. The girls are a great, canny idea, but need to be better mixed for optimal success.
A Chromeo show is a simple proposition. Take a decidedly pop friendly concoction, shake it up, and serve. Sexy sounds, sexy vocals, big guitars, flashing lights and confetti. From “Fancy Footwork” to “Tenderoni,” “Bonafide Lovin’” and “Don’t Turn the Lights Off,” the duo of Dave-1 and P-Thugg deserve sold out venues and a truly appreciative crowd. But instead of the band leaving you wanting more, the band only leaves you wondering about all the little things they need to improve. A perfect concept demands perfect execution. This was a lot of fun, but it could have actually been even more.