Washed Out Danforth Music Hall, Toronto ON, August 26
Published Aug 27, 2017Washed Out's Ernest Greene used to the be the crown prince of chillwave, but these days his material sounds more like beat-driven background music — the kind that might be played at a tasteful volume in a fashionable cocktail lounge. The songs on this year's Mister Mellow feature simple dynamics and minimal lyrics and melodies, which might explain why Greene attempted to spice things up by releasing a full-length visual component alongside the album.
He took a similar approach when performing the songs live; the arrangements were straightforward and Greene's charisma was non-existent, but the engrossing visuals made up for it. The entire hour-plus set was synched up to a psychedelic video, which played on a large screen that served as the backdrop. The frontman and his two backing musicians (a drummer and a bassist/guitarist, both of whom also played samplers) were silhouetted against the video screen, the low stage lighting making their faces barely visible.
The setlist was heavy on material from Mister Mellow. Greene, wearing a ball cap and tucked-in T-shirt, used a sample pad to thwack out the head-bobbing grooves of the wonky "Burn Out Blues" and the cinematic, orchestra-flecked "Hard to Say Goodbye." Behind him, the videos ranged from trippy cut-and-paste collages to selections from the recent visual album to what resembled colourful Windows Media Player "visualizations." During the fidgety "Get Lost," the screen displayed the message "take a hit and get lost" — like it wasn't already obvious these visuals were designed to get stoned to.
Without the videos, Washed Out's penchant for one-chord vamps and mush-mouthed, slow-as-molasses vocals might have been dull. Transforming it into a soundtrack for a hallucinatory video, however, was engrossing.
The hazy plod of signature hit "Feel It All Around" was surprisingly a low point, but upbeat back catalogue cuts like "New Theory" and "Hold Out" inspired dancing from any fans who weren't simply staring at the videos with glazed expressions. In particular, 2011 single "Amor Fati" was an energetic highlight — the closest the show came to a stand-out musical moment rather than simply a visual spectacle.
Greene barely said a word between songs, but following encore closer "Eyes Be Closed," he finally stepped out to the edge of the stage and gave a smile and a wave. Fans cheered, but it was hard to shake the impression that the real star of the show wasn't the frontman, but his video collaborators.