[intro-text size=”25px”]No offense to the band, but my biggest takeaway from Monday night’s Glass Animals concert was that the House of Blues has a remarkably good climate control system.[/intro-text]
After suffering through two of the muggiest days of the year thus far (and getting completely drenched walking to the venue), I was expecting the heat and humidity of the HOB to reach steamy levels reminiscent of some Agora shows of my youth. Fortunately, that was not the case and the crowd (big enough to upgrade the show to the HOB from the Grog Shop) was quite comfortable and friendly down on East 4th. Good for you, facility staff at House of Blues!
Comfort notwithstanding, I was expecting a muggy, malarial setting could have actually accentuated Glass Animals’ unique aesthetic. Their debut LP Zaba (Wolf Tone, 2014) takes its title from the children’s book The Zabajaba Jungle by William Steig, and the album’s atmosphere follows suit. African rhythms dominate, as do natural noises captured by leaving recording devices outside or capturing the sound of band members’ pets chewing. Singer Dave Bayley’s largely nonsense lyrics combine with the band’s jungle-vibe to become exotic and erotic, particularly in the band’s breakout single “Gooey” (“Fresh out of an icky gooey womb / A woozy youth / Dopes upon her silky smooth perfume”). Overall, the album gives the impression of a slow, surreal sex cruise down a jungle river. Like Heart of Darkness, but sexier.
I was expecting this smooth, exotic sound to dominate at the British band’s live show, even if it did not fully translate live, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not the case. Either the band decided that the studio sound would not translate well live, or it is just no longer a sound that they are as interested in—either way Glass Animals’ live set was ruled more by Bayley’s energetic performance than the subdued exoticism of Zaba.
The musical performance was, of course, still superb. Drummer Joe Seaward particularly shined on “Flip,” and Bayley contributed several guitar solos, ramping up the energy on formerly subdued songs. Glass Animals’ musical backbone was upheld by Edmund Irwin-Singer and Drew MacFarlane who rotated among bass, guitar, and synthesizers—maintaining the rich sound of Zaba and producing every sound heard live onstage (aside from a couple of prerecorded jungle-noise intros) while not overpowering the show’s live centerpiece: Bayley.
Bayley’s performance defied expectations for me. Based on Zaba, I pictured one of two personas: an indie-pop shoegazer letting Zaba’s unique sound speak for itself as he slides into the background, or a sensual but laid-back R&B-style crooner to match his melodic whisper. These personas were in play at times. “Toes” was set in the mood I anticipated for the whole show. It opened with Alt-J style harmonies. Bayley’s performance was subdued. The music was prominent, slow, and sensual. Even the stage was bathed in red lights turning the venue into a womb-like setting and obscuring the band. It was a very cool mix of stagecraft and music, but was the exception rather than the rule, I think for the best. A live version of Zaba’s slow flow would have dragged. “Toes” represented a breather rather than Bayley’s norm.
Instead, the House of Blues was treated to a burgeoning, talented front man. I was reminded most of fellow indie rockers Matt Shultz of Cage the Elephant or Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands: lots of energy, constant motion, getting really into his own music, weird dancing. (Bayley really liked to do one particular hand jive where he looked like a stereotypical acid-dropper trying to catch his own hand. I found it endearing.)
Bayley’s energy carried the show. Granted, like most young front men thrust from obscurity into a national headlining tour, he’s still working on between-song banter. “Thanks, Cleveland,” and “I guess it rains a lot here. It rains a lot where I’m from, too,” was about the best he got. Hopefully more practice will improve that aspect of his performance. Still, he has the makings of a great frontman—he injected a lively pop swagger into slow croons like “Gooey,” knew just when to let the crowd sing the words (“Those peanut butter vibes” in case you were wondering), and loved interacting with the crowd mid-song. The latter included opening the encore with a rendition of Kanye’s “Love Lockdown” entirely surrounded by the crowd (Kanye is clearly another of Bayley’s front men idols in terms of in-your-face energy and confidence, if not meaningful songwriting). That, plus a blistering performance of “Pools” to end the show, made the show’s conclusion by far its high point and set us off into the mugginess in high spirits.
It’s rare when you have an artist who’s live and studio work are fundamentally different, but I find it to largely be the case with Glass Animals. More than anything, this show has made me immensely curious about their next LP. Will it be a shift to the poppy energy we witnessed on Monday? Or will Glass Animals live and Glass Animals studio continue to exist as whole different…animals? I hope for the latter. I like a world where I can have my fun, energetic shows and my inventive, sexy, striking albums.