all words: William Alberque
all photos: Mindy Barrett
FINALLY, DC witnessed Active Child headline a show. This past Wednesday was the fourth visit in the past fourteen months by Pat Grossi, his magical harp, and his golden voice to our fair city. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it in time for the openers – Com Truise and Young Athletes League. Based on what I’ve heard on line, the former (check out WaPo’s review) sounds like a less-blissed-out Washed Out and the latter like early Kraftwerk. By all reports, they were good.
I was in plenty of time, though, for the main act. The room was crowded, but not oppressively so; they finally sold out during the opener after disappointing pre-sales. And it was an interesting crowd, too. Lots of couples, lots of hugging and kissing throughout the crowd. I settle in at the merch stand to procure my copy of the ‘Child’s debut album (You Are All I see) and chat with Gabe, their tour manager.
The stage was adorned with a Greek statue – a portrait bust of a woman. An eccentric touch, to be sure, but oddly appropriate to the placid, classic beauty of the music yet to come. Grossi is joined on stage by a bassist and drummer (when they toured with School of Seven Bells, it was Just Grossi and bassist Stratton Easter), filling out their show and ensuring that the recorded work sounds beautiful and full in a live setting. Oh, and they toured with Islands before that, and James Blake after.
Active Child start off with a soft intro before the gorgeous harp and soaring, beautiful high voice of Grossi fills the room with warmth. “High Priestess” sets the mood – like a gentle Tiny Dynamite-era Cocteau Twins track, but with Grossi’s unnervingly pretty and yet entirely male voice, and a classic, slow, placid song structure that obviates any analysis of the lyrics in favor of awe at the beauty of it. “Shield & Sword” crackles with glitch electronic beats and a Homogenic-era Bjork menace, but no less beautiful, amping up the sensuality in the room. It’s majestic. “Hanging on” follows, continuing the dark, Homogenic atmosphere, but Grossi now with a delivery like Billy Mackenzie on his best behavior.
This is all offset by the sheer normalness of Grossi’s looks. He’s unassuming, tall, an easy conversationalist adept at making strangers feel welcome, and his stage presence is quiet, contained. The songs are better live, with the mixture of live drums and bass and the visual of Grossi playing his harp without pretention or poses. The huge, Tangerine Dream versus M83 keyboard swells of “Way Too Fast” really start to overwhelm me. I’m not sure how much beauty I can take. “Playing House” is next, with a playful pop feeling and it briefly shakes the crowd out of their somnambulant reverie. The song seems to dance on a line between sexuality and silliness, and it sounds like it could be an honest radio hit.
I have down in my notes that the next track was from the first EP, but the setlist says it was “See Through Eyes.” …I’m going to go with my notes. I think it’s “When Your Love Is Safe” is next, and I’m in heaven. It’s big and immediate and engaging in a way the album often isn’t – if there’s a complaint about the album, it’s that it really can be overwhelming. The Curtis Lane EP, though is gentler, sweeter, and more playful overall. But this is a quibble. It’s all amazing from this perspective. I think “See Through Eyes” came next, and it sounds like Florence and the Machine gone quite mental. The song takes time to unfold, with swells and eddies in the song, entrancing, cinematic perfection with big beats and unspeakably beautiful keyboard lines with patient drumming and immense vocals.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M27YZ6P66Qk
I’m not sure what the next song is, but it’s pretty near life-changing in its beauty. I’ll guess it was “Ancient Eye,” though I’m really not sure. It just built and built and built and ended with everything but the perfect vocals of Grossi dropping out entirely. It’s a great closer to the set proper. The band leave the stage to an overwhelming response from the crowd but come back after the perfunctory break to start off with the finest moment of the night – “I’m in Your Church at Night.”
It’s wonderful that Active Child continue to make amazing songs – “Church” is so good, it would flatten a mortal band under the sheer weight of living up to it. Everything that’s perfect about music in four and a half minutes. I’d say watch the video, but it’ll give you ninth-Doctor Dr. Who nightmares for weeks. I’m sad that their 7”, “She Was a Vision” didn’t get a run out – nor did their amazing cover of New Order’s “Ceremony,” which, last time, was worth the price of admission. They end with a song that had me totally baffled. It sounded like a cover, but an audience member told me it came off the album. Dammed if I can find it, but the audience were in ecstasy, so who’s complaining.
I rounded the evening off with a nice chat with Grossi – he’s having the time of his life – and it was off to bed. Active Child is amazing; it’s just a matter of time before he’s a bona fide star.