As the first musical phrase issued from Lo-Fang’s aureate vocal cords, the intimate crowd at Le Pop-Up du Label audibly sighed. The small stage was set with a cello, violin, electric guitar, and some sort of small keyboard/pre-programmed Electric Drum Kit, most of which we couldn’t see because the stage was not elevated in relation to the crowd. I’d heard in passing that Lo-Fang was classically trained, so I was expecting the above setup; however, I did not expect that it would be just a duo – not a full band.
Matt entered, picked up the guitar, and started laying down some phrases with a looping pedal, then added violin loops, and continued like that. As a first impression, choosing to improv proved that he did not need a full band to create a full sound. The immediate benefit of his choice to limit the band to two members was that the live show sounded very different from the album, and it also for the most part avoided the use of pre-recorded tracks. It wasn’t necessarily like an acoustic show, but maybe just a lighter, simpler, and different interpretation of his recorded sound. Taking the time to layer with pedals also had the effect of demanding patience of the audience.
I realized from his first actual song of the night (after the improv), “When We’re Fire”, that his rich voice had a robust timbre and a slow vibrato that somehow replicated exactly the sound quality of his cello. The line “I’m a person not a concept” always strikes me in listening to that song. His lyrical material mainly centers around the notion of following passions without deliberation – disregarding circumstance and consequence. For example, his rendition of “Boris” (using mainly cello) was actually quite frightening: he predatorily reminds a girl that her boyfriend is out of town, and she better get out of town too because he’s coming for her. I found it genuinely unnerving, especially with his seductive manner of singing.
“Look Away” is one of my favorite of his recorded songs, and live it was stripped back percussively – an element that defines the recorded song, but it was beautiful to hear the violin layers in the first half of the song (made via pedal) turn to guitar in the latter half. Not only could you hear the actual notes being recorded, but you could also hear the nuances of the physicality of the instrument. For example in “#88”, he recorded a percussive effect of the bow striking the strings. You can hear him physically moving the instrument in addition to the instrument itself.
Midway through, Matt (Lo-Fang) announced he was going to play “Every Night” off of his free mixtape from last year, then amended himself, adding that he forgot a song. To my surprise, the song he’d forgotten to play was his commercial hit, “You’re The One That I Want” – a cover of the pop tune from Grease. While listening to his melancholy, cello-driven rendition of this song, he actually got me thinking, how was this even an upbeat pop-song in the first place? In the movie, this is the “Tell me about it, stud” plot-twist where Olivia Newton-John turns badass, slithers into the sexy leather pants, and warns Travolta he better get his shit together because, “I need a man/ and my heart is set on you”. It’s immediate and direct.
Lo-Fang’s version is subtler in the sex appeal, but it’s undoubtedly there, saturated in his voice and the menacing production. The original becomes kitschy after listening to his version. “Meditate in my direction, baby feel your way”. It was probably around this point in the concert where I began to sense the sex appeal of his music (and began to hardcore daydream). Interestingly, the only change in the lyrics was a pronoun swap of “You better shape up/ ‘cuz you need a man/ and my heart is set on you”. In doing so, Lo-Fang (possibly controversially) changes the nature of the relationship between the narrator and “the one”, and even possibly the plotline. (See, I definitely was daydreaming, recreating the movie.)
After the song, Lo-Fang confessed that they’ve only played that one maybe twice in the U.S., which is shocking. I would’ve thought it would be a high point, a mainstay in his setlists. Turns out (after talking for a second after the show) that the reason they were doing this one-off show in Paris in the first place was because Chanel had booked them for a private event for this song, and they thought they’d book a public show while here. [You can watch the Chanel No. 5 “film” feat. Lo-Fang here. As a warning, it makes just as much sense as any perfume ad, i.e. none. I have so many problems with his ad/video.] I’ll just say, I’m so glad I saw him in Paris so I could experience this incredible cover live.
After his above confession, they finally got around to playing “Every Night”, which is another diverse song, which begins with an electric sound, but turns classical near the end (as with “Look Away”). Again, themes of passion without consequence emerge: “There is no wrong/ there is no right/tonight…Even if I’m with somebody”. Though I’d thought “You’re The One” was the pinnacle of the set, I was completely caught off-guard by his sultry performance of “Light Year”.
Some bands have their go-to boogie song where they go out and engage with the crowd like a karaoke party, and apparently this one was his. “Light Year” is essentially only drums, sound effects, and pre-recordings, so he let his drummer/producer do all the work. But it was perfect – the liveliest moment in the entire set – because that allowed him to break the musician/crowd barrier. He unwound his mic, and moved towards the front of the stage. Since it’s only elevated by an inch or two, there is really no barrier between performer and audience. He serenaded one blushing woman up front, grooved around a bit, and dropped it like it’s hot a few times (no joke). He gestured with his facile and strong hands, sweeping us all in under his spell: “Give in to my temptation”. After the excitement of the dance party, the show dwindled down to its earlier calm with his last song, which returned to improv-elements and layering.
I didn’t know what to expect from Lo-Fang live, and honestly my expectations were low because his music – though layered, technical, and interesting – doesn’t really come across as something that would translate well live. In fact, after the show I stumbled across Pitchfork’s particularly negative album review that found his debut album aimless, inane, and “tone-deaf”. After the live show, I can refute that sweltering review as complete bullshit. Throughout the night, I came to realize his psychological and libidinal struggles, his gift with each instrument – including his voice, and the excitement that someone this talented can take an ingrained classical training and make it odd in the best way possible. I’ll never know quite what to expect from Lo-Fang, which makes him unendingly captivating.
Lo-Fang’s choice to do most of the instrumentation himself made for an extremely dynamic and technically fascinating show. Though his voice is captured well in his recordings, there is no comparison to hearing his lusty, mesmerizing vocals fill an intimate room. There are some bands that one simply has to see live in order to begin to comprehend and appreciate their sound, and Lo-Fang is without a doubt one of those. Or maybe he’s just got me in his spell already (cue: daydreaming again).