Tycho at the Georgia Theatre, Athens, GA, September 15, 2012. Photo by Jeff Pearson.
The first time I ever went to a show at the Georgia Theatre, as a fresh-faced kid just out of high school, I was stunned not only by the layout and immense sound of the venue, but by the fact that my friends and I were able to bring a pizza into the venue. We dined on a large Little Italy pie from a few doors down while listening to Athens’ heroic Beatles tribute band, Abbey Road Live. As the sounds of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” were poured onto the crowd from the stage, I was pouring parmesan cheese on my delicious slice of heaven; I’m fairly certain I turned to multiple people and said, “Can you believe it? Pizza! In a club!” I had found a new home that night, and not just because of the pizza, though that was a big factor. It was the immense sound and layout I had fallen for, and the fact that each time I went to a show there hence, crowds seemed to give everything back to the artist on stage, engaged in a constant loudness battle. Surprisingly, this is not a story about pizza, though it did bring a smile to my face on Saturday when I saw a couple bring in a box of their own to eat while watching the Georgia football game before Tycho and The Album Leaf reminded me of the non-circular-food-items-coated-in-melted-cheese-and-various-meats reasons that I love that venue.
The night had a somewhat surreal opening to it; we got to the venue, admittedly, pretty early, perhaps exposing the future fanny-pack doting, vacationing dad that resides within me, rigidly following a schedule. The venue was making use of their newest amenities, projecting the Georgia/Florida Atlantic game on the massive screen on stage. Watching football with The Album Leaf’s equipment silhouetted in the foreground was definitely a new experience for me, and it was interesting to note the differences in the red-and-black clad onlookers and those impatiently checking their watches, ready for the music to start. I probably fell into the latter category. When the message, “Are you sure you want to power off?” appeared on the screen with about eight minutes to go in what had turned into a blowout in Georgia’s favor, a wave of relief washed over me, and judging by the cheers spread out through the venue, it washed over others as well.
The Album Leaf, the project led by multi-instrumentalist Jimmy LaVelle, took the stage and immediately began building up an ambient wash of sound. LaVelle provided the canvas of soft Rhodes piano touches for his supporting cast to colorfully paint, mostly staying out of the projector’s gaze in an attempt to put the focus on his band. In taking stage left, placing himself firmly in the shadows, LaVelle might have even been mistaken as a member of that supporting cast—until he began to softly sing the delicate vocal melodies on songs like “There Is A Wind” from his latest full-length record, A Chorus Of Storytellers. Though on record, The Album Leaf sounds introspective and subdued, the band provided amplified versions for the attentive crowd, creating, at times, a dancy vibe with their downtempo flourishes. On the band’s standout track from 2006’s Into The Blue Again, “Red Eye,” drummer Dave LeBleu propelled the typically relaxed, headphone-oriented beat to mammoth proportions, as he and bassist Brad Lee shook the renovated theatre to its core.
The set was varied not only in the sense that the band worked through music from their entire catalog, from the first album to the Forward / Return EP to be released in a few days, but the set was also gorgeously stylistically nuanced. Violinist Matt Resovich played heavily affected wails over the ambient-leaning “Perro,” making his violin sound like a choir of ghosts singing from some dark corner of the afterlife. “Descent,” the newest single from the coming EP, had the crowd moving with Lee and LaVelle trading synthesizer lines over a bubbling beat. Many of the songs even moved into post-rock territory—no surprise given the intensity with which the songs are built—including the set closer, “Vermillion.” As the band built the song from scratch into a veritable wall of sound, the projector blasted the stage with a shot of a star exploding in space, providing a stunning audio/visual display as a climax to their set. The song was a stirring flash of brilliant light, not only visually, but sonically as well. The vision of the exploding star was a beautiful representation of what was going on behind closed eyes of those choosing to experience the music that way—the reflective nature of The Album Leaf’s music couldn’t be dampened in the slightest by the grandiose production.
This concept seemed to be the criterion for the evening; as soon as Tycho took the stage it became apparent that the overwhelming visuals and massive sound emitting from the Georgia Theatre’s pristine soundsystem only served to amplify the contemplative mood of the evening. Though the material that Tycho played was completely infectious and danceable, there were times, when Scott Hansen’s intricate programming blended perfectly with the visuals that he himself designed, when dancing was the last thing on my mind. Looking on in astonishment, feeling the gorgeously textured music pulse through my body was the first. It speaks to the power of Tycho’s music that either of these responses is a completely acceptable reaction to the power of their performance.
Much like The Album Leaf, Tycho’s music, typically low-key and relaxing on record, was ramped up to suit the live setting. The trio powered through tracks from the entire discography, focusing primarily on the most recent record, Dive, and even throwing in some unreleased material accompanied with an all-new visual setup. The amazing thing about Tycho is that even with the meticulous nature of the compositions, where each layer is placed perfectly atop the last, there is an improvisational element to the music that left the audience in anticipation the entire set. Songs like Dive’s “A Walk” drifted from sun-drenched ambient to propulsive drum and bass, completely fluidly and with precision. Hansen switched from synthesizers and programming the electronic backbone to the track to playing guitar as drummer Rory O’Connor and bassist Zac Brown breathtakingly communicated while shifting through the changes.
Tycho closed the night off with the gorgeous “Dictaphone’s Lament,” the lush hip-hop-oriented track from 2006’s Past Is Prologue, sending the beat-loving audience out into the city riding the wave of bass they sent shocking through the Georgia Theatre. The track showcased every element of the trio that makes them such a standout act in the electronic field. In combining live instrumentation with the fluttering electronic programming, Hansen and company are making huge strides in carving out their sound as being unique in a genre that is completely oversaturated at this point. In never truly subscribing to one form of dance music, Tycho can transiently move from one genre to the next, and with the incredible musicianship the trio possesses, keep the sound moving in a cohesive manner. Much like throughout the concert, wondering where they would lead any given track, it’s excited to look forward to the next step for Tycho.