A multi-artist lineup in a non-festival setting is a tricky balance to achieve, as each performer brings a distinct and disparate style to the table in a very limited amount of time. Saturday night at the Greek Theatre was no exception, with a particularly eclectic triptych of artists gathering under the venue’s high colonnades. The show started strong with rising R&B star Ian Isiah, peaked with Bay Area stalwart Toro y Moi and pancaked out with a corny but fun appearance by electro-funk mainstay Chromeo.
Gracing the stage alone in the hazy gray evening light, Isiah brought forth a strong set that set the tone for the evening. Standing at center stage amid a sparse setup, Isiah didn’t move for much of his performance, but rather held command over the audience with a combination of soaring vocals and tenderly explicit lyrics.
Highlighting a number of tracks from last year’s Shugga Sextape (Vol 1.), Isiah was nearly a cappella over a simple, plinky beat for most of the chosen songs. Among the selected tracks were “Situationship” and the breathy, glittering “247,” which overtook the theater in its autotuned-into-oblivion vocal runs. Throughout the set, Isiah frequently checked in with the crowd, asking if it was OK to do another song. Again and again, the crowd acceded with cheers, and Isiah exited the stage leaving a buzz in the audience that set the tone for the next performer.
Toro y Moi eventually came out decked in bright green-yellow safety suits and immediately brought a more organic instrumental sound that felt fresh after Isiah’s minimalist set. The group was in full force for the entirety of its performance, starting with the building synthiness of “Mirage” off of Boo Boo. As the safety suits came off, the conga-led “Ordinary Pleasure” marked a soaring transition into the group’s funkier tunes. In the chilly-humid cold-heat of the Bay Area night, it was more than on point when frontman Chaz Bear sang, “Maximize all the pleasure even with all this weather / Nothing can make it better.”
At home in front of the crowd, Bear graced the audience with some Berkeley-specific banter; asking, to the delight of the crowd, if anyone had run into him at Berkeley Bowl (the responses indicated a resounding “yes” for many). Leading the band, Bear was undeniably the star throughout the set, bringing cheers each time he danced toward the front of the stage.
As the group meandered through some of its more recent hits, the evening was grounded in the five-piece band’s instrumentals, which shone in their live iteration. The group ended on “Rose Quartz” off of the 2013 album Anything in Return. The song’s fizzy and staticky sound made for a pleasant outro to the fully fleshed-out set, a groove attuned to the group’s laid-back and expert musicality.
When final performer Chromeo came to the stage, there was a palpable shift in the energy of the show. The innovative work of the initial artists gave way to a wonky left turn into corny electro-funk. Arriving onstage after what felt like 10 minutes of the band members yelling “Chromeo” in a cultlike chant, the group’s presence often came off as excessive and put-upon, feeling like Daft Punk via Barry Manilow or an unironic 90-minute homage to Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.” Where its predecessors in the lineup were personable and organic, Chromeo was a removed sensory overload.
The group’s goofy energy has been better channeled through the levity of its recorded music. Playing live, many of Chromeo’s songs were cringey and broke the cool, calm and collected nature of the rest of the evening. Contrived rather than innovative, it became a light show instead of the funky dance party it could have been. This actually happened during “Night by Night,” when lead singer David “Dave 1” Macklovitch turned his guitar into a giant light beam flashing out at the crowd, literally choosing flashiness over substance.
As a collective, Saturday’s show was somewhat uneven in what the three performers were trying to achieve with their disparate styles. Ian Isiah made for an intriguing, innovative opening number. Toro y Moi was undeniably the star of the night, bringing the gravitas of a local legend with an expertly crafted and performed set. Though closer Chromeo’s performance was more than a little bit too much, the three artists in composite made for a fun, funky evening at the Greek.
Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected].