When one pictures the face of San Francisco Pride, it probably isn’t round and slightly chubby with glasses, but Will Wiesenfeld represented all the same. “Is it Pride or something?” he yelled to those in the crowd, many of whom had just come from Pink Saturday in the Castro to attend Baths’ show at Great American Music Hall on June 29, the final performance of his 2013 tour. Opening acts included an energetic DJ set from D33J, followed by a dreamy performance by Houses; shows earlier in the tour had Baths opening for The Postal Service.
Based in L.A., “Baths” is the stage moniker of Wiesenfeld, a classically trained electronic musician whose music tends towards ambient pop filled with crackles, clicks and snarls, bearing some resemblance to the compositions of Toro Y Moi and Washed Out. When his music isn’t purely instrumental, it features his falsetto or vocal samples, creating an evocative collage of sound.
In striking contrast to the colorful, rave-esque attire of Pride attendees, Baths’ set was quite minimal, as was his set list — he performed only nine of his tracks, six of which were from his newest release Obsidian (2013). Ambience consisted just of colorful strobes and a hanging background light piece Wiesenfeld lovingly referred to as “our bullshit — this cost $200; was it worth it?” With only one other person assisting in DJing and backing vocals as well as a keyboard and laptop, Baths performed a mix of prerecorded and live music, which was to be expected from an electronic show. Less expected were frequent interludes, seemingly improvised, which showcased his musicianship; infectious beats layered with wordless vocals that got the crowd dancing in a way the wistful “Ironworks” or bipolar “No Past Lives” couldn’t quite achieve.
Wiesenfeld’s bedroom compositions felt somewhat unsettled on a live stage, much like the overall tone of Obsidian. His soft, understated vocals on the record became belted outbursts in the opening “Worsening,” and the chorus of “Plea” from his debut album, Cerulean (“Please tell me you need me”), became more anguished than pleading. In contrast, “Departure” (also from Cerulean) as well as the piano coda of “Miasma Sky” provided a refreshing break from the otherwise relentless bass; often, lulls in music between pieces left the audience restless and waiting for more. High points of the show included the enigmatic “Lovely Bloodflow” and encore-ending “No Eyes,” which turned up the volume until the crowd was whipped into a frenzy by the final crashing chorus.
Having stated to Pitchfork that his new record would lend itself much better to live performance than previous releases did, Wiesenfeld succeeded in making his live music more dynamic than a simple replaying of his pieces. While more of the actual tracks from his albums, particularly past releases, would have been welcome in an hour-and-a-half-long set, the show was definitely intended to engage and enliven the crowd. Wiesenfeld may have produced a dark, moody record this time around, but his performance was anything but.
Contact Mohana Kute at [email protected].