Purity Ring at First Avenue, 9/14/12

Categories: Last Night
Purity Ring First Ave.jpg

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Purity Ring's Megan James on macabre lyrics, fairy tales, and not having a favorite band

Purity Ring with Evian Christ and Headaches
First Avenue, Minneapolis
September 14, 2012

Purity Ring's profile has been steadily on the rise since the release of their enthralling debut record, Shrines, at the end of July. So much so, that many of their shows on their current headlining tour have been moved to larger rooms to accommodate the swelling demand. That was the case on Friday night in Minneapolis, as well, as their previously scheduled show in the 7th St. Entry was moved to the Mainroom at First Avenue to house the throngs of new fans of the hotly tipped Canadian duo.

And while the young dream-pop group brought a beguiling light show and plenty of overwhelming bass along with them to First Ave, their utter lack of stage presence and distant, mostly pre-recorded electronic arrangements failed to make much of a connection with the packed club during their brief 40-minute set.

Corin Roddick's expansive synth and effects setup was initially covered in a sheet, which he grandly removed once the band finally took to the stage. But Roddick's decks proved to be the only instrument on stage, as their set was adorned by a bunch of cocoon-like lights hanging overhead, providing ghostly illumination throughout the show as they lit-up in multiple colors in time with the beat.

Sadly, the lights proved to be the most fascinating aspect of the entire vapid performance. And, after witnessing the grand, staggering spectacle of Amon Tobin's ISAM 2.0 at the Orpheum Theatre the previous week, Purity Ring's setup came across as mere child's play by comparison.

Vocalist Megan James kept mostly in the shadows throughout the show, delivering her inscrutable, chopped vocals from the comfort of the darker corners of the stage. She occasionally swung a light at her side, either from nervousness or to give a clue to the crowd that she was still up there within the darkness. And while the sound in the club was crystal clear, the immense bass in the mix drowned out some of James' vocals as well as the subtle electronic flourishes which make their debut such an intriguing listen.

The eager Friday night crowd clearly was ready to get down no matter what, as the packed floor was dancing and swaying as soon as Purity Ring dropped the beats to opener "Belispeak." The songs themselves were pleasant enough, but the band injected little personality or passion into their material, which left the numbers sounding cold and rather lifeless in a live setting.

Occasionally, when bells would sound in the tracks, Roddick would hit a few lights set up on his synth arrangement, giving the illusion that they were in fact producing the chimes we were hearing. But the entire performance proved to be rather illusory in the end, as you wondered exactly what sounds the duo were actually creating on stage, and how the live experience differed from listening to the album itself.

All their singles were represented during the 10-song set, as "Fineshrine," "Lofticries," and "Obedear" all got the young crowd moving but still came across flat and tired as the group failed to inject any emotion or vitality into the songs. It didn't help that the group didn't say a word to the crowd until close to the very end, giving the show a robotic rigidity that lacked both pulse and pleasure. When James did finally speak to the audience, she only mentioned the change in venue, saying, "We were going to play downstairs originally, or is it next door? We're glad this worked out." Hardly the type of words that would possibly forge any type of connection between artist and audience.

Despite their set being a fleeting, 40-minute performance, the end of the show still somehow managed to drag, as their unvaried sound became monotonous and rather mundane as the evening went on. A lukewarm rendition of "Crawlersout" plodded along listlessly, while "Ungirthed" lacked the luxurious texture present on the studio version.

And as ultimate proof that the detached performance failed to connect with a majority of the audience, after the group closed with a tepid version of "Shuck," most of the crowd failed to notice that James even left the stage, and just a few gave Roddick an ovation when he exited, with both never to return. It didn't even dawn on the well-lubricated fans that there wouldn't be an encore until the house lights turned on, bringing the disappointing night to an anticlimactic end.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: The few songs I caught from Purity Ring's opening set for Neon Indian at the Entry back in October didn't make much of an impact on me, but I gave them a second chance based on the soaring beauty of Shrines, which I absolutely love. I think I'll just stick to listening to them on record from here on out.

The Crowd: Young, obnoxious, and drunk.

Overheard In The Crowd: "Is he even doing anything up there?"

Random Notebook Dump: I'm not sure if it's the fact that Purity Ring aren't the type of band to fully command a Mainroom audience, or that they just aren't a good live act at this point in their still-blossoming career, but this set just seemed off straight from the start.

Setlist:

Belispeak

Amenamy

Fineshrine

Lofticries

Cartographist

Saltkin

Obedear

Crawlersout

Ungirthed

Shuck


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