By Zach Hale
Photos via DC9 at Night
You know that feeling when you know you’ve stumbled upon something truly special? That moment when you realize what you’ve just experienced is something you’ll keep with you for the rest of your life? I had one of those moments back in April when I, somewhat haphazardly, came across the work of a 22-year-old Idahoan by the name of Trevor Powers. His music struck a chord with me in a way that few had before – its aching sentimentality and descriptions of a lost childhood were commonplace for me at a time when post-graduate realities had begun to sink in. Yet, at that instant, about halfway through my first listen to “July”, all my troubles were mere afterthoughts as my Youth Lagoon concert timer commenced countdown. Nearly seven months and countless plays later, the moment finally arrived.
As I walked into Dan’s Silverleaf, one of Denton’s finest institutions (and by institution I mean bar), local psych-pop sweethearts Peopleodian had already taken to the stage. I got my hand stamped, politely declined to be added to the Spune mailing list (already on it) and made my way through a surprisingly robust crowd given the day of the week (Tuesday) and conditions (cold). The patrons were a well-dressed and alluring bunch – not surprising given the scene (indie) and location (college town) – who emitted their typical muffled enthusiasm for the opening rounds of entertainment. The venue itself, adorned with a West-Texas pastiche and illuminated by a dimly lit neon effervescence, was an appropriate setting for the night’s subsequent events. Despite having an intense cold, all my ailments were rendered insignificant as I became immersed in the venue’s delightful accommodations.
That being said, for reasons unbeknownst to me, tables and chairs were set up in front of the stage for the duration of the entire show. So if you weren’t one of the fortunate few to snag a spot, you were essentially forced to stand against a wall and deal with constant incoming and outgoing traffic. I get that they were expecting an intimate, somewhat chillwave-ian vibe, but it seemed like an awkward and inefficient use of space. If you’re reading this, Dan, please don’t do that again. Now back to the good stuff.
I’d heard good things about Denton-based Peopleodian, but this was my first opportunity to see them play (or hear their music, for that matter). Their schizophrenic brand of pop at times shaded English electro acts Broadcast and Stereolab, but with a bit of Mars Volta/At the Drive-In’s flair for grandiose psychedelia and off-kilter syncopation (which, given the guitarist’s not-so-subtle resemblance to Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, is probably not a coincidence). With experience and maturation, the oft-buzzed about quartet are certainly capable of fulfilling their promising talents.
As Young Magic took the stage, the smell of incense began to permeate throughout the tight quarters. If this was any indication (and it was), we were about to be engulfed in a mind-bending hallucinogenic haze. Immediately, the tribal rhythms, droning guitar and fiery chants brought to mind other psych-contemporaries like Prince Rama and Yeasayer, but their music had a restrained sensuality to it – just a hint of R&B in the vocals – that added a subtle sexiness to their flair for the psychotic. An oddly impressive feat.
When the smoke had literally cleared and Young Magic gathered their equipment, a palpable aura of anticipation began to fill the air as somewhere amidst the clanging of bottles and post-adolescent chatter was an astutely eager duo armed with nothing more than two Rhodes keyboards, a few drum pedals and a Fender electric. The aforementioned equipment and two red lamps were the only items accompanying the band on-stage, and the minimalist approach clearly aimed to make the show as intimate as possible. Mission: accomplished.
Trevor Powers and good friend Logan Hyde arrived on stage to rousing applause and opened with album highlight “Cannons”. Immediately, the most noticeable difference between Youth Lagoon on record and Youth Lagoon in concert was that the vocals had shifted to the forefront of the mix. On The Year of Hibernation Powers’ voice sounds frail, emotionally distraught, and muddied and obscured to the point where it’s often difficult to understand the lyrics (although I’m not saying that’s a bad thing). In concert, Powers sings with a willful passion, escalating his intensely personal and expressive compositions to unforeseen heights. The impact of his voice was felt throughout every song he played, and as his curly brown hair and denim-adorned torso remained hunched over the keyboard I couldn’t help but be affected by what I was witnessing.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s difficult to grasp just how complex the piano chords are on record. Watching Powers play such sophisticated pieces on the piano, and play them so effortlessly, is a thing of sheer beauty. Despite the seemingly simplistic nature of his songs and being typecast as a bedroom-producer, it’s clear that he has a rich musical background which he subtly, yet effectively, utilizes. His raw skill and ability to multi-task – playing two keyboards at once, initiating drums via pedals – is evidence of just how uniquely talented Powers really is.
As we’ve seen all too often throughout the course of music history, it’s easy for such a talent to lose sight of what’s important. But Trevor Powers the person is just as charming and delightful as the kid we hear on record. There was a moment between songs when he described his Denton experience as nothing short of “beautiful”, and how he “had a moment” as he strolled aimlessly through town. While describing this moment, he mentioned how, amid the frenetic on-the-go nature of touring, he had forgotten what the sound of footsteps was like, and how refreshing and life-affirming it was to have been there on that day experiencing what he did. In a way, his experience was not unlike the one I had when I first heard Youth Lagoon – or the experience that followed that fateful night in Denton.
The Year of Hibernation is out now via Fat Possum.
MP3: Youth Lagoon - July