ODESZA’s live set, pumping with adrenaline and chock full of drops, was hampered by a lack of narrative and emotional range.

12/12/17 – House of Blues

For two white guys making electronic music, ODESZA are pretty easy to like. Since 2012, Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight have been winning over thousands of Spotify listeners with their sun-kissed take on EDM, crafting beats that teem with glittering textures and warped vocal samples. Hits like “How Did I Get Here” and “It’s Only” evoke scenes of natural splendor; the wide-eyed wonder of a mountaintop sunrise and the icy rush at the bottom of a cliff conveyed with the wash of a synth pad. The emotional impact of these songs is most keenly felt when paired with breathtaking drone shots of Yosemite and the Oregon coast (see: Denali).

On Tuesday night, ODESZA delivered a stadium-sized show to a sold-out House of Blues crowd that was equal parts dazzling and impersonal. After openers Chet Porter and SOFI TUKKER warmed up a slightly inebriated, high-school aged crowd, a backdrop of glittering white dots of light appeared as Mills and Clayton walked to their sampling stations on either side of center stage. “Intro”, the first track from their new album A Moment Apart, set the tone for the night. As images of earth viewed from a spaceship faded in, a young woman, nearly whispering, related the scene of a Russian astronaut choosing to fall in love with an incessant mechanical he hears aboard ship. Over the course of the night, this introduction felt increasingly inconsequential, as none of the themes reappeared in any identifiable way.   

Over the next hour and a half, the duo unveiled a crowd-pleasing set with plenty of diversions: emerging LA singer Naomi Wild joined ODESZA on stage for “Higher Ground,” live horns added an authentic feel, and, most memorably, a full, choreographed drumline accompanied hits, like the hymn-like “Corners of Earth.” From the jaw-dropping laser patterns to the vagueness of the crowd banter—“Boston, you look so beautiful tonight”—almost every aspect of this big-budget affair was conveyed in huge, sweeping gestures. The barrage of trap-infused drops and strobes made the show ideal for dancing, but a lack of dynamic variation made it almost necessary to occasionally disengage. During “Late Night”, a pounding, bass guitar driven instrumental, one glitter-covered girl looked up from her phone at her friend, who was standing with her arms crossed, staring morosely off into the strobes. “Roy Moore lost!”, she screamed, waving her phone ecstatically and snapping her friend out of a trance.  

The human touch ODESZA seek in their instrumentals is often found in vocal performances, and Tuesday night proved that they write much of their best music in collaboration. A few couples slow-danced as Leon Bridges added some warmth via “Across the Room”, a charming, if slightly saccharine, doo-wop meets Chainsmokers ballad that served as one of the few downtempo moments of the evening. Later on, the whole room swayed to the euphoric “Line of Sight”, which finds Mansionair earnestly pleading with an ex to reconsider over euphoric synth stabs. However, the highlight of the night came towards the end in the form of “Falls,” an anthem about resilience and courage co-written and sung by the prodigious up-and-coming pop writer (and Boston native) Sasha Sloan. On “Falls,” Sloan’s melancholic songwriting lyrically and melodically sharpened the amorphous aspirational quality that hangs around so many of ODESZA’s tunes into something genuinely reassuring and inspirational. Some crowd members danced, but many took out their phones to record the moment.

While ODESZA’s songs are too danceable to truly fail in a live setting, a lack of coherent narrative or specific themes limited the emotions to sleepy serenity and detached euphoria. The smoke machines, soaring synths, and celestial imagery aimed to create a transcendent experience, but ultimately provided more instant gratification than spiritual uplift.

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