Concert Review: Lo-Fang at U-Street Music Hall

Concert Review: Lo-Fang at U-Street Music Hall

By Jon Hersh

There’s a playlist in Spotify that appears whenever I boot up the software, which is a lot these days, called “Rich Girl Pop”, featuring artists such as Charli XCX, Lorde, and probably something else with a little “mustard on the beat“. Think of pop songs you would hear blasting from your Alfa Romeo convertible cruising down the California coast if your radio was controlled by your not-eponymously-inappropriate girlfriend, who despite liking your taste in cars, will never really love you notwithstanding your best efforts, a fact you discover much too slowly to do anything about, sort of like that boulder in the road! Oh shit, you better keep your eyes on the road, buddy.

Lo-Fang isn’t Rich Girl Pop. Lo-Fang is the Alka-Seltzer-laced tonic you drink after your Rich Girl Pop girlfriend leaves you possibly stranded in a countryside hotel, nursing a hangover and a heartache. It’s not quite an Elliot Smith-level breakup — thankfully she left you with most of your dignity and credit cards intact — but you’re hurting nonetheless, in a range of emotions that moves from ennui to regret and then back again, and you need something to remind yourself that the good life still exists. Somewhere. This is the music you play to forget her. Let’s call this genre Luxe-Pop.

It’s impossible not to discuss Lo-Fang without also discussing that video. As of this writing it has been viewed more than 10 million times, which is a good number to have listen to your music if you’re an unknown artist trying to build a career. But having Baz Luhrmann direct your music video advertising Chanel No. 5 which stars Gisele Bündchen is even better.

But how does all this translate to a live performance? Lenny Kravitz once remarked that after Mark Romanek directed the music video for “Are You Gonna Go My Way” the band struggled to bring that energy to the live performance. If only Lo Fang could tour with Baz and Gisele, but in absence of that Lo-Fang will having to bring the energy sans Kravitz’s luscious locks. What Serenat and I set out to determine at U Street Music Hall on Wednesday night was whether this held true.

The night was an entirely Lo-Fang bill, with an hour of “Lo-Fang: Soundscape” preceding his live pop performance. Lo-Fang himself, Matthew Jordan Hemerlein, entered the stage during the soundscapes, accompanied by a touring member on drum programming and auxiliary effects. Lo-Fang opened the set with Blue Film’s first track, “Look Away“, which had Matthew performing violin (both pizzicato and bowed) along with guitar, using a looping delay to slowly create the musical elements of the track. This pattern was repeated on most of his songs, adeptly switching between violin, guitar, and cello, and of course singing in his characteristic vibrato. The comparisons to Andrew Bird will be made, and they’re wrong. The Beatles and Metallica use functionally the same equipment, and yet you would have to be stupid to confuse the two.

Most artists feel a need to punch things up during live performances, to heighten the bombastic elements and downplay or forget altogether those elements that don’t come across as well live. Lo-Fang by contrast subtracted more than he added. The songs lost much of the low end punch they have on the record, but they gained the expansive atmospherics, which is perhaps what Baz Luhrman saw in Lo-Fang’s music in the first place. Lo-Fang became more of himself. The crowd, for their part, was receptive, which included it must be said, some of the most attractive people I’ve seen at U Street, happily instagramming away, but totally receptive to whatever Lo-Fang presented to them.

Of course, that’s no reason to like or dislike Lo-Fang. An artist doesn’t get to pick their fans or their career, nor do they get to choose when and if big league directors become their patrons. They do get to pick where to go from there, and if Wednesday’s show was any indication, Lo-Fang hasn’t lost his sense of what he’s good at.

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