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all words: Andy Johson
all photos: Julian Vu

This was not a memorable show. I’m not saying it was bad concert. On the contrary, Tycho and Beacon put on a visually stimulating and aurally delicious show Thursday. Tycho, a San Francisco-based three-piece, is led by Scott Hansen, a semi-famous graphic designer, and his skills as an artist help define his work as a musician.

Tycho

His music is difficult to classify – wordless, ambient, electronic – and because of the cerebral nature of such (fans of Board of Canada, Bibio, and Warp Records no doubt have already picked up Tycho’s wonderful Dive, one of the best albums of 2011, despite its GLARING omission from nearly every year-end list), it’s quite hard to identify the juicy bits. If these sounds aren’t supposed to make you think, or to dance, or cry, or to really develop new thoughts, is this truly avant-garde music, or just enjoyable, digestible sonic wallpaper?

Beacon

Beacon was up first, the tightly-packed Rock N Roll Hotel, eager to see what these two Brooklynites were going to offer DC. I was expecting to hear something akin to Tycho’s floaty dreaminess. What I got was a spin on the sinister, gloomy R&B that The Weeknd championed throughout 2011 and Drake pilfered on Take Care tracks like “Marvin’s Room”. The duo moved quickly through the set, one singing in falsetto, the other tapping away at his Korg. “No Body,” the title track from their recent EP, was treat for Matthew Dear acolytes… or anyone who enjoys the urban moodiness of downtempo. “See Through You” sounded like the bastard child of M83 and The Postal Service.

Beacon

Because they are a relatively young band, they threw in a few covers to liven up the set. A part of me still feels uncomfortable watching two grimy white boys run through a Ginuwine slow jam and a chopped-and-screwed Katy Perry hit (“So Anxious” and a truncated “Last Friday Nite”, respectively), but if Obama can hustle out a respectable rendition of Al Green, I don’t see why I should slight two professional musicians for having some fun with pop music. My feelings are if you’re going to cover a good pop song: (A) Don’t fuck it up, (B) Have a unique take on it, like Devo’s spastic version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. To put it a different way, the world does not need a pop-punk cover of “We Found Love” or “Video Games” (although I rather like Titus Andronicus’ oh-so-serious rendition).

Tycho Tycho

Seeing as how Hansen made his bones as a visual artist, it was not a surprise Tycho had a projector set up to shine images onto the band as they performed. In an interview with BYT, Hansen said the additional of a visual element turns a show into a “cinematic experience.” The projections were precisely what one might expect from an ambient-esque artist: a never-ending rotation between fractals, nature landscapes (deserts, waves, dead forests), smoke, bubbles, etc. I would agree with Hansen.

Tycho

The additional of the visuals did help the show, intensifying the music’s tranquil quality. One caveat: the next time Tycho plays DC, it would behoove them to play a venue that wasn’t as cramped as the intimate Rock N Roll Hotel. If you were in the back or under 5’8”, you missed out on some trippy effects.

Tycho Tycho

After Beacon’s relatively soulless performance, I was pleased to see Hansen’s recruited mercenaries function as a tight rhythm section. The drum and bass overwhelmed the audience, while Hansen worked his synth and guitar. From my recollection, they played most of Dive and even dipped into some songs off of Past Is Prologue.

Tycho

The problem is, with the exception of some truly standout  tracks like the “Dive” and “Hours”, the set was blur of gentle, warm noise. It’s funny that I was attending this concert on Groundhog Day, because the band seemed to be playing the same song over and over again. Some improvisation would have been preferred, something “off the rails” from the visual rollercoaster, but I also understand that you got to stick with what works.

Tycho

If I can again pull a quotation from the interview, Hansen claims, “I think a lot of people who listen to this kind of music, kind of ambient music, a big part of why they go to shows is to hear it on a large sound system and feel it and be with other people and feel that energy of the crowd and all that.” This time I would disagree with him. Tycho’s “kind of ambient music” is a sound of introversion, especially compared to the extroverted energy that you find in your run-of-the-mill EDM. I contend this “kind of music” is not one to be shared – and I don’t mean this in that sappy, diary, personal sort of way. Rather, this is such heady, amorphous existential music, it’s hard to attach any sort of emotional feeling to it other than, “Oh, that sounds nice,” as you nod your head and shuffle your calves.

Tycho Tycho

Can you dance to Tycho? I guess. Can you politicize ambient music? Perhaps. But rather than trying to describe ambient music, just turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. You might not remember it, but at least you’ll enjoy it.

Beacon Beacon Tycho Tycho Tycho Tycho Tycho Tycho Tycho Tycho Tycho Tycho Tycho

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