Robert DeLong - The Constellation Room - January 30, 2014
The Constellation Room
I do not like EDM concerts. A DJ masking the fact he's simply pressing "play" on his laptop by distracting his audience with mind-bending visuals does not impress me. Rolling on ecstasy to enjoy live music does not appeal to me. That sick bass drop does not make me lose my shit. Let's face it, we all saw it coming. But these are generalities, and as with any genre, EDM is more than the sum of its stereotypes. It has an underground. There are outliers. And one of those is Robert DeLong.
The Los Angeles by way of Bothell, Washington electronic musician is not your typical EDM mascot. Sure, he flashes safety-cone-orange "X"s on his clothing, his gear, and his face (or at least a variant thereof). Yes, the average age of his standard fan is 20 years old. It's true, his songs are poppy and dance-inducing. But here's where he's different: He's actually a musician, and a damn talented one at that. The 27-year-old studied drums at Azusa Pacific University and played in numerous indie rock bands while in college. Last night, both of these influences and more shined at The Constellation Room.
Two years ago, DeLong headlined his first residency at the small club, and now it merely acted as a stop on a national tour. His young, devoted fans stood eagerly awaiting their X-adorned savior, showing their loyalty with faces blotted in neon colors. However, even before the multi-instrumentalist took foot onstage, it was clear this was not your typical EDM show (at least from a performance standpoint). A full drum kit sat proudly stage left, while keyboards, samplers, guitars, microphones and even a snare drum/cowbell getup snaked along the rest of the stage. Sure, there was a laptop scattered among the melange of equipment, but it was not front-and-center. To an unbiased eye, this setup clearly belonged to a full band. But no, the mop-haired musician has always been, and still is, a one-man-band.
As soon as he stepped foot onstage, DeLong got to work. He replicated the haunting chants that start off "Basically, I" and looped them, creating his own bone-chilling harmony on the spot. From there, he thumped and looped a drum pad beat with a neon orange drumstick, slowly building the closing track off his 2013 debut album, Just Movement. After each piece was in place, the exuberant artist came back to his microphone and crooned over what he had re-created. He followed similar structures as he re-worked tracks off his freshman effort while making sure to focus as much on his fans as he was on his music.
Taking a page from fellow electronic darlings, Starfucker, DeLong used the wise words of modern philosopher Alan Watts as thoughtful interludes between songs, invoking a sense of maturity to his youthful, warbling electro-pop tracks. He used his time to cite influences, whether it be a brief homage to The Talking Heads with a "Once In A Lifetime," intro or a cover of Filter's "Take My Picture," which not one of his face-painted fans recognized. He even showcased his Seattle roots with Ben Gibbard-esque croons during "Perfect," a song he shared with vocalist Natalie Nicoles (I swear it could have been a Postal Service B-side).
Between epic drum solos, triggering a MIDI interface with joysticks and Wii remotes, strumming a guitar over electronics, and all the while singing every song (sometimes with two microphones), it was clear that DeLong was more interested in performing an intricate show than paying for intricate distractions. If more electronic artists shared this mindset, I might be willing to change my views on EDM. Or at least rethink them.
Critical Bias: Robert DeLong is one of the best live performers I've seen, electronic or otherwise.
The Crowd: So many fedoras and painted faces.
Overheard In The Crowd: "We love you Robert," as the opener, Mystery Skulls, was ending his set. Doh.
Random Notebook Dump: "Hey Ya" played in between sets and the whole crowd lost its shit. It was weird.