This past Saturday, a crowd of hip, 20-something San Franciscans gathered around the low stage at The Mezzanine for what Trevor Powers of Youth Lagoon fame called “the last American show [he] will play in very, very long time.” Powers was dressed in a black and white striped blazer that shone in various hues of blue and purple in the low, rotating lights of the venue. Floral cloth was draped over the sides of his equipment in an intimately casual manner of decoration. He hunched over his keyboard-turned shadowy podium with his curly locks hanging over his face. As he sang, his pointed features periodically peered out from behind his hair with more intensity than one would expect from the high-pitched singer songwriter of dreamy lo-fi pop songs like “17.”
Much of Powers’ performance contributed to an impression that there is more to this musician than his ability to weave pleasing pop tunes from lullaby melodies and pretty lyricism. His demeanor was serious and sedate as he drew out his usual songs into extended psychedelic noise jams. Rather than embracing the audience with spoonfuls of sing-along renditions, he chose to alienate them with a skillful display of experimentalist droning.
Fans who have appreciated the trajectory of Youth Lagoon’s discography thus far would have likely appreciated the deviation of his performance, as it seemed a continuation of his path toward musical maturation. Powers’ 2011 debut album The Year of Hibernation offered irresistibly upbeat keyboard melodies adorned with a haze of melancholic vocals — the kind that make you nostalgic for something that you never knew you missed. His 2013 Wondrous Bughouse, brings more whimsical melodies but drapes them in heavier instrumentation that add complexity but lessen accessibility and catchiness. The pop uniform is exchanged for a more psychedelic ensemble that adds a Magical-Mystery-Tour-era Beatles influence to existing Beach House similarities.
Although Powers’ musical musings were impressive, there were most likely fans there who were wishing that his renditions of his most popular songs like “Cannons” and “Afternoon” had been a little more clean. (The ground-rumbling bass was drowning out the vocals a bit.) But if those people prefer the Powers of 2011, it seems that their listening will be restricted to their iPods from now on. Powers has moved on.