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Toro y Moi – Paradise Rock Club, Boston 15/02/13

20 February 2013, 13:50 | Written by Ryan Thomas

Photograph by Howard Melnyczuk taken at The Village Underground, London. View full gallery here.

At Boston’s Paradise Rock Club a digital marquee inside the venue displays the coming attractions, including who will be performing that night and so in lights Toro y Moi’s name is listed, but the man himself and his music feel oddly misrepresented.

Not to discount the promo art (i.e. this), but it caters to the wrong expectations about Toro y Moi’s live sound. According to this poster – and pretty much any album reviewer who hasn’t seen Toro y Moi perform live – Toro y Moi is strictly “laptop music”. It is “chillwave”. It is “glo-fi”. It is any such reductive title referring to electronic music recorded in and to be exclusively listened to alone in a bedroom. It may have started this way but as we are about to be shown, is now an utter falsehood, especially the part about being alone in the bedroom whilst listening.

Toro y Moi, the opted-for stage name of Chazwick Bradley Bundick, does not perform through a laptop, he actually performs with a backing band who render his loops and slurring sonic trails into retro-funk-tastic ‘70s period music. It is as well-observed as it is squeaky clean. The aesthetic is distinctly one of a danceable yester-decade, full of organic bass hooks, guitars, and instrumental restraint which completely reinterpret the sample-heavy material appearing on Bundick’s second album. The first album, however, is most indicative of the type of sound Toro y Moi opts for live.

The show feels like it is being presented by Ray Ban and/or Urban Outfitters judging from the deep necklines and overall eye-wear-intensiveness on show. The crowd are practically a Portlandia casting call and even the roadies look fit for modelling. Taking to the stage in his signature ‘nerdy’ glasses, blue button-up shirt and khaki pants Bundick looks as decisively as preppy as his birth name.

Everyone in this sold-out little venue roars and the music kicks in, and the room becomes a discotheque. Toro y Moi’s first song is, fittingly, the first song off the new album ‘Harm in Change’ and it sets the tone for the night. A thumping beat, female vocals and string samples, a groove straight out of a 90s hair salon, and squiggly keyboard atmospherics (provided by the fro’ed-out funk-conductor himself). “Hello Boston,” he says, the crowd respond with wild enthusiasm and grinning with evident appreciativeness he cries: “Tonight’s gonna be awesome.” And so it is.

By the third song, one which is probably familiar to most in the room, virtually everybody in the house is dancing, even on the upper tiers. The song in question ‘New Beat,’ has an overtly disco quality, with all the period-accurate ingredients: hand clap-and-bongo-guided percussion, Steely Dan keyboards and a bass line that will just not quit. Add in the primary color-heavy lighting effects, the world suddenly turned into an Old Navy Commercial, and as is true of any Old Navy commercial resident, outdated is the style, and ‘tongue-in-cheek’ holds no meaning. Sincerity, as it turns out, can shine through the cultural disdain of the mainstream.

A lot of material Anything in Return crops up, although it doesn’t necessarily sound like it. Their sixth song ‘High Living’, which on record leans on understated jazz organ riffs, a tip-toeing drumbeat, and is defined by a squiggly synth that sounds like its being played out of Sega Genesis, is given an almost Pink Floyd-ish jazz-rock treatment. Those Sega-synths turn into slippery guitar strings, and the chorus crashes and crescendos, Bundick singing emphatically “You’ll be living hi-igh, hi-igh, hi-igh…” – an energy deserving laser light treatment.

When they play ‘Studies’ the twinkly/squawky guitars, morbidly-obese bass line, closed high-hat drumming sound like the theme song for a 70s buddy cop drama. The album from which it’s derived, however, contains elements that borrow more from hip-hop and contemporary R&B conventions, with production work that suggests more BET than VH1 Classic. Garnishing as such usually comes with greater budgetary access, being able to afford shinier bells and whistles, the kind of which TYM/Bundick’s growing success has no doubt provided. Even still, the vintage aesthetic which defines his debut album (2011’s Underneath the Pine) is what gave it its charm and DIY appeal. What makes it so convincing as an album is that it was ostensibly recorded using equipment manufactured in the era his music seeks to occupy. Such charm is maintained when TYM steps out of his bedroom/music studio/sonic effects lounge, and up onto a stage where his R&B influence becomes more evocative of Earth Wind & Fire than of R. Kelly.

But no matter how many times Bundick has heard his own material, or read his name in a Brooklyn-based fashion magazine, his humility remains tangible. It is clearly visible in how happy he gets while performing songs both new and played-to-death old , in how he shakes as many of his fans’ outstretched hands as he possibly can before playing the last song of the night and in how un-frustrated he gets when one particularly unruly fan leaps onstage, starts dancing, and dashes off. Obviously, he was much too distracted by the sight of an entire house dancing to the kind of music that makes him smile – the dance music of idioms past that sheds all labels and preconceptions the moment that first beat drops.

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