wordz: Philip Runco
photoz: Priscilla De Lima – Ledesma
Prinzhorn Dance School ran into some visa issues in the spring of 2007. The Brighton duo had landed the opening gig for DFA labelmate – and, not coincidently, label owner – James Murphy, whose LCD Soundsystem was queuing up a tour in support of the hot shit Sound of Silver. The powers that be had other ideas: Prinzhorn Dance School couldn’t secure the necessary documentation to cross the Atlantic. The last minute cancellation left DFA scrambling for an opener. Enter Jona Bechtolt.
It was hard to know how seriously to take Bechtolt at the time. On one hand, he was a year removed from his exhilarating production on The Blow’s Paper Television, an album that buzzed with snare hits and synths over templates both no-wave and new-wave. The guy could do a lot with a laptop. On the other hand, he could do too much with a laptop: his solo work under the YACHT moniker was less focused and more gimmicky, often content to merely showing off. Additionally, Bechtolt still had a foot in The Blow, raising doubts that YACHT was anything more than a side-project.
Opening for LCD Soundsystem at 9:30 Club, Bechtolt performed as he had for years at much smaller venues: by pressing play. With no interest in the kabuki of “recreating” complex electronic music on the fly, he put on what amounted to an elaborate karaoke routine. His computer streamed backing tracks, he sang, and when songs went instrumental, his body would jerk, pogo, and pop in what could only loosely be described as dancing.
Regardless of whether the audience was impressed, Murphy was, signing the band to DFA. The move was more than a formality. On YACHT’s debut for the label, last year’s See Mystery Lights, the band began to incorporate the hallmarks of label’s associated production: live drums, disco rhythms, and post-punk guitar.
When YACHT returned to DC on Monday night, the assumption of the DFA aesthetic was all the more pronounced. Gone were Bocholt’s laptop and the pings of its electropop soundscapes. In their place, Bechtolt had upgraded to a synthesizer, guitar, and backing band, the Straight Gaze, on a drum kit and bass. The line-up gave See Mystery Lights’ songs longer, funkier life, complete with squiggly guitars, ridding hi-hat, and full, throbbing bass.
In other words, YACHT songs turned into LCD Soundsystem songs. B-side “Suicide” extended into the fluid jamming territory of “Yeah (Pretentious Version)”, complete with a matching clavinet line. Covers of X and the fictional Fabulous Stains recalled the dance-punk stylings of “Give It Up”. “It’s Boring / You Can Live Anywhere You Want” married the rumbling bass of “Too Much Love” with the percussive momentum of “Us v Them”. Clearly Bechtolt had learned a thing or two during the 2007 tour.
But questions of originality hardly seem fair when the source is Murphy, a pastiche artist himself. And the band performed with an intensity fervent enough at least temporarily displace such concerns. YACHT had come off a half-baked piece of performance art three years ago, but before the Rock and Roll Hotel audience, Bechtolt presented a complete vision of the project. His brown mop of hair cut to a boyish trim, Bechtolt donned the eerie all white suit of an evangelist. The outfit synced with the quasi-religious experience YACHT sought to deliver.
The band’s gospel targeted familiar subjects: organized religion, materialism, youth culture. “Will we go to heaven or will we go to hell? It’s my understanding that neither are real,” Bechtolt and bandmate Claire L. Evans posed on set opener “Ring the Bell”. Later Bechtolt led the audience in a “promise” to “love,” “risk my life,” and “not attack,” because “the world may end in my lifetime,” but “my energy will continue.” Sure. Whatever. The band took its cultish mantras a step further on “Suicide”, inciting the crowd to “Put your nikes on / Do the Heavens Gate” and “Sip the kool-aid / Do the Jonestown.”
As grating as such unsubtle sloganeering might sound, it’s a testament to Bechtolt and Evans showmanship and enthusiasm that it managed to come off charmingly. From the moment Bechtolt and Evans entered voguing to “Ring the Bell” through the closing sing-along of “Psychic City”, the two didn’t rest until the whole crowd was sipping their kool-aid.
Related: BYT Interview: YACHT