Two years ago, when then chillwave-darling Ernest Greene, mastermind of Washed Out, gleefully skipped onstage at Rickshaw Stop on his first tour ever, the Southern boy's adorable smile and unbridled excitement (without even a bit of pretentiousness) was just enough to melt his San Francisco audience's icy, way-too-cool facades, getting arms to unfold and hips to move ever so slightly. But would the music, propelled with backing band Small Black, live up to all the hype–especially now that chillwave seems like such a flash in the pan?
When Greene took the stage at Great American Music Hall on a sold-out Saturday night this weekend, hopping onstage with a ton of pep in his step, that same charming smile and a proper live band (which includes his wife) to boot, it was the kind of show you knew would solidify this up-and-coming band's time in the limelight. And if you haven't heard the already critically-adored debut album, which comes out in just a few days, you'll understand why Washed Out's future beyond chillwave is clear.
From the first bombastic, cathedral-filling synth lines and Greene's emphatic hand claps, it was an experience of what's new on Washed Out's plate, which is completely worthy of surrendering yourself to. From the loved-up dream world the band captured in "Soft" (perfect for a mosh pit makeout session), to the pulsating, Moby-esque beats of "Echoes" (which had the entire front half of the venue pogoing up and down), Greene and his gang's intent to get everyone to trade in their hard-heartedness and tap into that fragile, romantic side in all of us revealed a rare combination of sincerity and showmanship you won't catch a whiff of on many big stages.
Beyond being a purveyor of atmospheric vibes like most chillwave acts, Washed Out's music has become utterly anthemic for those who are tuned in. The majestic new single "Eyes Be Closed," at its zenith, rendered the dancefloor into a trampoline, under the weight of over a hundred people collectively losing it.
Although the live drums and bass (even a saxophone on "Eyes Be Closed"!) let machine-driven music like this take big gulps of fresh air, old standards like "Feel It All Around" and "New Theory," while still gorgeous and melancholy, were attacked straight-on, with none of the spontaneous improv treatment I was hoping for. Still, that didn't seem to bother anyone else; the only thing missing from the blissed-out audience were a few lighters waving in the air.