Published Jun 05, 2013Their recordings may weep with breathy, new-soul elegance, but as a live prospect, the odds are stacked against LA brother duo inc. Debut LP no world — released on 4AD, no less — has a pensive, hermetic quality, the kind of sensuous boudoir'n'b that, while peripherally alluring, suggests a concert experience of few nosebleeds or broken limbs. (Miguel fans are free to argue this point.) Likewise, it'd be easy to roll eyes at yet another offering of soul-infused sophisticates — even the pseudo-modest decapitalization seems somewhat passé — and since the Weeknd and How to Dress Well's surprisingly adept actualization as live artists, these former Pharrell-backing musicians make for uncertain headline material.
Assembling onstage at 1am, the core duo, Ageds Andrew and Daniel, were backed by a keyboardist and drummer, welcome human presence in a show that could probably have gotten away with a standard laptop setup. "What's up Toronto," grinned singer-guitarist Andrew, before noodling some awkward jazz, mumbling cursory introductions and sound-checking excessively. "We're gonna walk offstage in a minute so it's like, you know... see you soon." Prince live at Las Vegas this was not.
Still, given the circumstances, the set began promisingly with album highlight "Desert Rose (War Prayer)," heat wave guitars and keyboard flourishes creeping into a lashing, reverb-drenched climax. Then there was "Angel," during which crowd members slipped into a kind of ironic white groove, boys with slicked-back hair and backwards caps slow-dancing and finger-wagging. It was an unintentionally comical scene, the song's earnest croon of "when your head goes down" delivered with a lack of self-consciousness that would, in nimbler hands, be commendable; here, it was less sexy than slushy, the prospect of getting into bed with anyone onstage surely unappealing for even the most committed fans.
It's a shame the set never found momentum. Certainly the musicianship was credible: Andrew's suggestive solos betrayed his stadium R&B roots with a stoned funk élan that was lacking elsewhere. There's little pleasure in noting that, midway in, the crowd had diminished by half. "This is a soulful city, isn't it?" asked Andrew later in the set. It's hard to tell whether he was joking.
A tight "Black Wings" momentarily invigorated proceedings, though the band's habit of crowbarring crowd-interactive breakdowns into the middle of every song, presumably an effort to fill out the set, left any hope of hitting the slink-pop highways stalled in the garage. Surprisingly, the remaining audience requested an encore, for which a topless Daniel and the band returned to salvage an impassioned climax from "Lifetime," Andrew chicken-heading through another entertainingly verbose solo. Overall, however, inc.'s pleasant and intensely personal tunes received only a token injection of real personality. It's fair to say the songs, and fans, deserved better than the young brothers could offer tonight.