Live Review: SOHN with Wet at U Street Music Hall, Washington DC – 1st November 2014

By on Monday, 3rd November 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Saturday night in Washington. Usually a good shout but seeing that it was the first true cold snap we’d had this second half of the year (hello, first true frost warning of winter), I wondered if that would diminish the turnout at U Street Music Hall. This show had been sold out long ago but I was unimpressed by the queue when I strolled up 10 minutes before doors and found myself about 20th in line. Then the wind started howling and I decided anyone already in line was serious about the bill.

I exchanged pleasantries with the teenage couple in front of me in the queue when they asked me for the set times. The girl then went on to explain that support act Wet “only have about five songs”. Not terribly auspicious. Still, I went in with the hope that I’d find something about them to like. Here’s the thing: electronic music isn’t known to be forgiving to a singer. You’re either a strong singer whose voice holds up to the electronics and rises above it emphatically (say Andy McCluskey of OMD, Theo Hutchcraft of Hurts), or you risk getting lost in the shuffle. And sometimes the latter is fine, if that’s the mood you’re going for.

Kelly Zutrau doesn’t look the part of electronic band frontwoman seductress; maybe I’ve been spoiled at this venue by the regality of Valerie “Tei Shi” Teicher back in July supporting Glass Animals? But laid back Zutrau in a t-shirt and jeans seems to fit in with the overall philosophy of Wet: yes, the vocals are dreamy and the electronics with r&b inflection are a sight to behold live, but really, this young band are not one to take themselves too seriously. I mean, take a look at some of their song titles: ‘You’re the Best’, ‘Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl’ (promo video below), ‘No Lie’. They’re not going to win any songwriting awards anytime soon. On paper, the sweetness of Zutrau’s voice (probably better suited for a dream pop act) shouldn’t work with the backing thrown at her but somehow it works. Then again, I still don’t understand the appeal and meteoric rise of CHVRCHES, their former touring mates in the States, so what do I know? Turns out quite a few punters were there for Wet and not for SOHN, which was a surprise to me, but I guess 13,000 followers on Facebook don’t lie.

A man who dresses nightly like the dark version of The Flying Nun shouldn’t be a popular electronic artist. Yet somehow Christopher Taylor, the London-born, Vienna-dwelling producer who goes by the stage name of SOHN, can pull it off. His debut album for 4AD that was released in the spring, ‘Tremors’, has already made impressive waves around the world. I’ve considered that the all black outfit he favours is like Daft Punk’s spacesuits, designed to minimise the effect of his appearance (as a very tall English chap with a hipster beard and unlikely to hurt a fly) that might otherwise detract from the complex nature of the electronic music he makes. Thankfully, the thick fog that envelopes the stage for a good third of the night eventually lifts, but I couldn’t help but think that any number of animals from colder climes could be hiding under that misty shroud playing music, and we wouldn’t know any better:

However, the decision to shroud both himself, his two live band members and the stage turns out to be a very good idea for most of the set. Except for a few obviously pissed audience members who are throwing their bodies around for the entire show, for until the last quarter of the hour or so he plays, due to the lack of distraction on stage, the vibe in the club is one of reverence, with men and women singing along softly word for word to the songs. While I was surprised by the minimalism, it allowed Taylor’s soulful voice to shine on ‘Bloodflows’ and ‘Veto’, and the falsetto he brings out for title track ‘Tremors’ was met with rapturous crowd response. Humourously, an attempt to signal his sound guy, stationed all the way at the far end of the floor, to lower a “woo” frequency only caused the audience to get more riled up, mistaking his hand gestures for a request for them to be louder and make more noise. Oops.

But this is all part of SOHN’s appeal. Taylor might be dressed in a hood, but one suspects that he’s a really down-to-earth kind of guy, feeling truly blessed his music has reached this many people, and in such a strong and positive way. In an avuncular, Mister Rogers manner, he actually asks the audience with a smile, “ready?”, before launching into megahit ‘Artifice’. Bless. Rhetorical question. The club lit up as Taylor threw his own body into the performance, which is no mean feat considering the man was sat in front of his table of electronics all night. Followed by ‘Lights’, with its heartfelt refrain of “blood, sweat and tears won’t retrieve it / you just have to wait to receive it”, the progression was peerless.

In the middle of the show, a fire alarm triggered by the aforementioned fog refused to shut off; instead of stopping the set, Taylor and his bandmates embraced it, slowing down an entire number to incorporate it into the song. “At least it’s on the beat!” he commented with a grin, before continuing. But it was ‘The Wheel’, the sole encore, that truly brought the house down. “The very last breath” SOHN had to give us Saturday, like the other songs that came before, was brilliant. Technically gifted and with a beautiful voice, I hope Taylor continues to share his music with us for a long time to come.

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[…] the song, performed for a 4AD session. Suitably dark and dramatic like the live experience and much better than the actual promo […]

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