It’s been a while since Dntel has been a big deal. A decade ago Jimmy Tamborello was defining an aesthetic, the rock-solid Life is Full of Possibilities was an early example of indie’s gradual coaxing into more danceable ground, and the chemistry between his beats and Ben Gibbard’s feathery croon essentially created a subgenre that defined a decade’s worth of crossover pop. A set at Emo’s should be treated with utter infatuation, but unfortunately when you’re consistently reclusive and wholly uninterested in releasing new music, even the mightiest powers can wane. For Tamborello, that meant a barely half-full crowd and a lot of bar chatter. It was a depressing site, the kind of thing you start reaching for qualifiers to soothe the disparagement (“it’s because its Tuesday night” “it’s because school starts tomorrow”) but you know, it’s not like Jimmy got screwed – considering this tour only exists to support a ten year anniversary reissue of Possibilities and it’ll soon be half a decade since his second effort, it’s pretty easy to calculate why his legacy has decayed.
Someone whose legacy isn’t decaying is Will Wiesenfeld, the L.A. producer whose work as Baths seems to escalate in attention every day. Most of that is the music, but he’s also been a relentless promoter – always on the road and constantly taking interviews. It’s easy to understand why he might want a break, his Geotic moniker is a lot less recognizable; essentially an ambient guitar-noise project that’s not exactly built for a stage. However, over the course of his thirty minutes he kept the crowd pretty quiet, seemingly entranced by the swirling, psychedelic sprawl drifting from the highly undramatic source of a tank-topped dude staring pensively at a guitar. He was completely wordless, shooting occasional smiles to the audience and signaling directions to the sound booth. Before you knew it he was already in the merch booth, after so much publicity, he seems to be ready for some anonymous alone-time.
Bay Staters The One AM Radio followed, they were probably the most ambiguous name on the bill (although a quick google reveals they’ve been making records since ’99) and chief songwriter Hrishikesh Hirway doesn’t exactly help his cause. The music is streamlined, beat-heavy electropop of varying levels of significance, but Hirway’s 1000-mile bewildered stare sucked up most of the intrigue. His big round eyes and just-laugh-so-he-doesn’t-cry stage banter made him quite likable in a pitying sense. The songs were good, maybe even better minus indoor Emo’s subterranean ambiance, but it was Hirway’s rigidness that was the most lasting. Sure it was memorable, memorable in that ‘I hope he doesn’t pee himself’ kinda way, but memorable none the less – when you’re opening to half-capacity for a headliner like Dntel, the shit talk is probably worth the attention.
Tamborello looked pretty much exactly like you left him. A pre-bearded, semi-pudgy, vaguely hip looking dude that probably has an Atari 5200 somewhere in his basement. His idea of a light show is a series of interlocking shapes in trendy, corporate-logo colors, and his performance mulched through foggy interludes, broke in showers of golden, tuneful exuberance, and shuttered into microscopic, texture-heavy experiments. So yeah, kinda like a Dntel record. Jimmy certainly understands what got him famous, and he stuck to that shtick – the new material(!) he played had the same miniaturized pulse, while the older stuff was updated, but never revamped into a banger.
It was actually funny gauging what exactly was a peak for the Dntel fanboys. The moment where ‘Anywhere Anyone’ hit a consistent groove would barely register on any club kid’s Richter, but the most loyal of the Dntel kids absolutely lost their shit. Rather charming to watch, in the stupidly fast moving indie realm it’s nice to know some people stay permanently latched to their idols, whether or not they may have fallen off the radar. Great songs tend to stand out. When the static of ‘(This is) the Dream of Evan and Chan’ emerged (complete with a guest performance of Hirway doing his best Gibbard) it was impossible not to give into the sing-along. For all of his annoying qualities, seeing Jimmy Tamborello be great tends to erase a lot of those mixed feelings.
But seriously, just imagine the money that could be made with a Postal Service reunion.