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Memory Tapes Defy Genre at Slim's

Memory Tapes lead singer-guitarist Dayve Hawk was all business Thursday night at Slim's.

Can chillwave really be all that “chill” in the live setting? With apologies to the kids too baked to move, live instrumentation has a way of turning blissful ambiance into head-thrusting, dance-pop affairs. We saw it a few weeks ago with Washed Out at GAMH, which turned trippy pop experimentation into an orgiastic dance affair. And last night at Slim’s, The Memory Tapes inspired something similar, winning dancing hearts and head-bobbing minds with a sound more rooted in tradition pop ideas than any new genre-of-the-moment branding would suggest.

Bandleader Dayve Hawk’s conceit seems much more clear-headed live. He sings for a bit, then dutifully gets lost in his guitar. He noodles with command and at length, and the effect is often sublime or entrancing. The clearest example with this is on the transcendental-crescendoing track “Bicycle,” from 2009’s Seek Magic, with which the band closed its set. About midway through, the song sections off into joyous major chords, and Hawk riffed and riffed and could have gone on forever, curfews be damned.

Hawk did most of the talking with his guitar, light on banter, all business. He’s got the look of a young Dave Grohl, with shoulder-length brown hair hugging an otherwise serious countenance. And damn it if his voice didn’t sound like a humbler unplugged Grohl, but we may have to contribute that to sensory overlap.
Drummer TK had the daunting task of recreating live what sounds like a drum machine on Hawk’s recordings, which are busy with fills and odd time signatures. Bassist TK is at his best when the crowd is nodding aggressively, and he seized our attention numbingly on “Swimming Fields” with a lobbing to-and-fro bassline.

Many of the songs needed the assistance of a backing track for proper studio re-creation of their complex sound, which leaves little room improvisation and calls for faithful sticktoitiveness. The only time this seemed like it could pose a problem was when Hawk had some tech difficulties with his guitar, but he calmly grabbed a new one, somehow re-tuned and went back to melting without chaos.

We heard multiple tracks from the band’s latest album, Piano Player, released just weeks ago (to decidedly more subdued reviews than its debut). That said, the track “Today is our Life” is an anthem worthy of any Best of the Summer playlist, thanks largely to a psych-y delayed vocal loop that sounds like a skipping CD somehow synched up to another track. A sign that Hawk is still very interested in experimentation within the pop framework.

S.F. three-piece Painted Palms opened the evening with an intriguing brand of abstract electronic music, chill-y but warm, with alternately chanting and authoritative vocals. Heard shades of Animal Collective in there, but, full disclosure, I tend to project them onto most weirdcore bands.