RISE captures an unexpecting audience with electronics and soul.

12/08/2016 – Isabella Stewart Gardner

Cancellations and scheduling conflicts are inevitable, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner’s venerate RISE program is no exception. The day before her sold-out Thursday performance at The ISG’s Calderwood Hall, Betty Who pulled out due to illness, leaving curators Simone Scazzocchio and Shea Rose in a squeeze.

Yet, thanks to Berklee connections and an immediate “yes” from the evening’s headliner, Julia Easterlin, the show went on and went well. Despite sparse attendance and jarring differences between acts, the evening’s dynamic range flourished in the cavernous Calderwood Hall, and Simone and Shea’s infusion of local curation personalized the vast space. RISE places local and national performances together and establishes an openness from the outset, allowing for the experimentation most concerts prohibit. Even with its makeshift lineup that Thursday evening, RISE demonstrated a deft integration of Boston’s talent, music, and art.

Scazzocchio opened with comments on the rows of empty seats throughout the audience, but the first performer, talented Boston Arts Academy Senior Safiyyah Johnson, remained unfazed. Easing into a slow, reticent cover of Jessie J’s “Who You Are,” Johnson set the evening’s central theme of belonging, extending notes and phrases otherwise obscured in the original recording. The cover graced Calderwood Hall and provided calm before the electronic onslaught of Knower, a dynamic and experimental electronic duo from L.A. that blasted the audience with glitches and synths akin to early Crystal Castles. Homemade, low-resolution images of pizza, exploding planets, and pixelated bodies bathed singer Genevieve Artadi in her own world.

Despite the sustained release of electronic beats and visuals, Knower’s set felt restricted by the formality of the venue. Audience members bobbed in seats, but eventually became immune to the sheer wave of dynamically flat synths. Fortunately, the wave of noise cleared the stage for the evening’s calm and impromptu headliner, Julia Easterlin.

Barefoot, Easterlin walked on stage, only to leave again. Returning with her ear monitors, critical for her intricate loops, Easterlin started with a low hum and sporadic claps. Steadily layering her sounds, Easterlin created loops that inhabited the corners of the room Knower pounded as she layered lines of bass, drums, voclas, and ukelele.

Easterlin’s music exists in a space between the eccentricity of tUnE-yArDs and the delicateness of Andrew Bird, even when she steps away from her loops. Mentioning her recent change of name to Hite, Easterlin parted with her looping pedals and strummed her ukulele to the nods of the audience. Under her new persona, Easterlin eschewed the limits of repetitive loops, allowing her melodies shine in the empty space.

Walking offstage barefoot, Easterlin ended her brief set with the vulnerability of an intimate rehearsal: a quiet ending to an experimental evening.

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