Nicolas Jaar gives hypnotic set at UC Theatre

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Chilean electronic producer Nicolas Jaar has the rare gift of greeting negative space as a familiar entity and ever-so-gently building tension around its narrowly defined outlines until it gives birth to something universally knowable. Take last Saturday’s sold out show at The UC Theatre as an example.

A pre-show playlist heavy on moody Spanish music and brooding synths came to a sudden halt as Jaar took the stage in near silence. He set himself firmly within the realm of the negative space that he would spend much of the rest of the show introducing to the audience and began the delicate process of building layers of lounge pop, driving percussion and gently flowing synths upon nothing but a simple “thank you so much” offered to the audience. Those would be the only words he spoke all night.

Opening the show with “Killing Time,” the opening track from Sirens — his latest release and the third installment of a trilogy album whose previous installments include Pomegranates and Nymphs — Jaar transformed the silence that he had so carefully curated into a shimmering cacophony that, by sleight of hand, he allowed to melt into an array of angelic vocals. A deluge of sound and bright lights washed over the stage and onto the floor drowning out all noise from the audience who stood already transfixed with awe.

The truest marker of Jaar’s success as an artist and performer is the fact that the hypnotic appeal of his set stemmed entirely from his presentation. It didn’t seem to matter which songs he played or if they were songs at all. The audience was just as spellbound when Jaar built buzzing walls of sound across the venue and gently choked off the sound until they crashed as they were when he took the mic to layer his rich vocals over rigid percussion during “Space is Only Noise if You Can See” from his debut album Space is Only Noise.

For all of the shadowy tension Jaar built up over the course of the show, it never seemed to get too dark or too broodingly serious. Jaar always seemed to pick the most appropriate times to pull back and inject a danceable energy into his set. This energy reached a fever pitch toward the end of the show when Jaar picked up a bass clarinet and played out the end of “The Governor.”

Naturally, there was an encore. Yet, by the time Jaar returned to the stage, the energy of the first set had begun to wither away. The crowd stood subdued, patiently waiting to absorb whatever Jaar would present to them. There was no pulsing desire for frenzy. Even something small and quiet would be perfect.

“Colomb” rose slowly from the death of this former energy serving as both a requiem and a resurrection. As Jaar shifted his focus toward the keyboards surrounding him, a much gentler energy came to replace the long-gone frenzy as Jaar shifted his focus toward the keyboards surrounding him.

A delicate balance of light and shadow played across the stage and Jaar, dressed in all black but illuminated from every angle, became an organ of both extremes as he drew nameless melodies out of his keyboard to fill the empty space surrounding him and used the silence hanging in the light to punctuate these melodies.

Jaar soon brought the encore to a neatly packaged ending and left the stage a second time. When he returned, he stepped into the middle of a spectrum of rainbow-colored lights and laid out a short and sweet set bathed in disco nostalgia. There was no tension to be built, just dancing to be done and energy to be released.

If during his original set and the first encore Jaar had served as an intermediary between the world of negative space and the visible, tangible world, here he had been relieved of that duty and made to exist solely as a representative of all that was corporally familiar, and he had done a damn good job at it.

Contact Sannidhi Shukla at [email protected].