1/27/2016 – Middle East

 

If Chrome Sparks has a hit, “Marijuana” is it. The not-so-subtle stoner ode with synesthetic lyrics (“I feel music in your eyes”) became a Bandcamp sensation and brought a sold-out crowd to an indica-infused Middle East on a Wednesday.

But it was Bad and Blue, the Tufts/NEC-based hip/hop-jazz group, that brought the sativa uplift. It was a tight squeeze for the eight-piece band on a small Middle East Upstairs stage, but there was still enough room for Cam Flowers and Tammara Gary to spread infectious energy. With Cam’s rapping over soul-suffused instrumentals and Tammara’s lively vocals, it was impossible not to feel good.

If you’ve been in a local band, you know it isn’t always easy to get people to come through to a show. It helps if – like Bad and Blue – your band is good, but more important is if your band makes people feel good. Bad and Blue certainly does, and the Tufts-heavy crowd mirrored their love.  

Between hip covers – Hiatus Kaiyote’s “Nakamarra” and a soulful rendition of Britney Spear’s “Toxic” – were originals, many from Bad and Blue’s self-titled 2014 release. On “Ain’t Sunday,” a hip-hop infused jazz funk track Tammara’s vocals shone. And on “Monsters,” a jazzy guitar intro with surfy effects led into the disorienting repetition of “Have you ever had a nightmare/This is what a nightmare sounds like,” and a rap over a subtle 7/4 beat.

Bad and Blue was followed by a brief and forgettable set of ambient techno from Moon Diagram, the moniker for Deerhunter drummer Moses Archuleta. There were moments of intrigue, but mostly this was a set scrubbed clean of polyrhythms, melodies, or well, anything of much interest.

 

The crowd thinned and was renewed for Chrome Sparks – the college-aged friends of Bad and Blue mostly replaced by other college-aged people in tow for the headliner. Jeremy Malvin, the Brooklyn-based producer behind Chrome Sparks, took the stage in an all-maroon getup seemingly straight off an Urban rack. Live drums complemented his arpeggiated synths, creating a surprisingly big sound for two people. Treated vocals were added to the mix at times, but otherwise it was just synths and drums.

The range of different timbres was impressive – Malvin seemed to be a connoisseur of synths. But eventually, the formulaic arpeggiated synths got old. There were occasional moments of complexity and subtlety – ducking synths, treated vocals reminiscent of Crystal Castles, or more intriguing beats – but most tracks followed the same formula.

One standout, “Send the Pain On” (not to be confused with the nü-metal canonical work, “Send the Pain Below”) thrived due to its catchy synth melody, but through most of the night Malvin’s synthlines were unremarkable.

And then came “Marijuana.” Idris Mohammed’s soul jazz classic, “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This,” has become fodder for crate-digging producers like Chrome Sparks and Jamie xx. On “Loud Spaces,” Jamie xx drops the sample over the chorus. In his live performances, apparently newsworthy, he has taken to simply pressing play. But Chrome Spark’s reworking is truly unique. An original melody strutted through the submerged synths and manipulated sample, and the crowd vibed to it.

It wasn’t enough to make the show, but for three minutes there was music in your eyes.

Wednesday Turnup: Chrome Sparks, Bad & Blue
Pros
  • Lively opener
  • Sold-out crowd
Cons
  • Moon Diagrams' tedious set
  • Same-songy headliner
6.2Overall Score

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