LIVE REVIEW: Son Lux @ Institute Of Contemporary Art (3/21/14)

Son Lux

Out of all the acts listed on Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art 2014 schedule, experimental electronic musician Son Lux was easily the most thrilling prospect. As a giant glass cube, the ICA is one of Boston’s more modern buildings, only rivaled by MIT’s Stata CenterSon Lux, the stage name for 34-year-old Ryan Lott, blended in with the museum’s hidden theater three floors up, exploring dark synths and hybrid chamber pop with a relaxed mentality that wrangled the overall sound into one bubble.

It would be oafish to view Friday night’s show as a performance separate from its location. It’s not often a musician plays in a museum, nevertheless one focused on contemporary art. Waiting in a lobby intentionally crafted as a larger piece of work begged the inevitable question: What is art – and how does music fit into that definition?

Opening act Leverage Models put out their debut LP a couple months ago, but the four men rode their set out with the certainty of musicians who have long been in the game. Frontman Shannon Fields took the spirit of David Byrne and dotted the stage with his own dance moves, occasionally yelling lyrics through a megaphone or next to a twitching tambourine while their drummer carried on without once looking at the giant flower stemming from his bass drum. If it weren’t for their business-casual attire, early Of Montreal comparisons would be fair game.

College kids dripped down onto the floor and danced along the sides of the stage. Because of the setup, it looked like pre-arranged backup dancers, the first of many nods to contemporary and performance art. When one man took the band’s tambourine, however, and began playing during a song, several audience members shouted for him to sit down and return the instrument. I’d say it’s nice to have the audience involved, but even I was irritated. At what point does involvement become entanglement, a boon become a detriment, free-spirited naivety become annoying pretension?

However unintentional, Son Lux cleared that up. His music begged that same movement from the crowd, but with less pop and more gloom, their physical response reeled out slowly instead of prompted by an initial gut flinging.

Son Lux’s set drew mostly from 2013’s Lanterns, his excellent third album. Much like how Darkside disguises complex layering under minimalism, Lanterns offers songs that are easy on the ears but comprised of enough snippets to satisfy intense audio cravings. “Pyre” and “Alternate World” were quick to show Lott’s voice is barely edited on the album. Live it carries the same hoarse weariness elders cough out before falling asleep, and his ability to gracefully tread octaves was clear during “No Crimes.”

“Easy,” one of Lanternsslower tracks that unfurls into a larger creature, drew an R&B groove live. The result was the first of many jazz solos by Son Lux’s guitarist and drummer. There was no specified time allotted for improv, but the three men onstage felt it out, letting the museum’s walls act as encouraging hands, pushing them forward to keep going until they felt they were finished. The live version far exceeded any pre-recorded version, including the recent collaboration with Lorde. If performance art can be hailed as previously determined originality dependent on the reactions and shape of its space, “Easy” was one hell of an art project.

Soon the dam broke again and the college kids flooded down, but this time it felt right. There to revel in Son Lux’s final song of the evening, “Lost It To Trying,” the group of students grew in size, almost immediately mirroring the song’s veering live route. In a powerful finale that stuffed the whole museum in an invisible lariat, Son Lux gave one last subdued, striking jam halfway through the song (around 3:30 in the video below). If anything could prove he deserved to play in the ICA, it was his orchestration of the guitarist’s solo—a moment weirdly reminiscent of Amerie’s 2005 hit “1 Thing” that then ditched the poppy groove for a powerchord rock riff—and the unexpected teamwork with the 1920s-meets-EDM dancing Boston crowd. Son Lux not only clarified music’s spot in art, but he exemplified its role collaborating with other mediums as well.


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Written and photographed by: Nina Corcoran (Twitter)

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