The early basement productions of Josh Kolenik and Ryan Heyner typecast Small Black as ‘chillwave’ the sleepy, hazy electro-shoegaze subgenre of the late 00’s, but last night at 502Bar the atmosphere was alive and exciting but some how still quite chill. Their new album Best Blues, released on Friday, and while no longer lo-fi productions, this new record still showcases Small Black's song crafting abilities. The energy of their live band and audience is a very different experience than simply listening to their recordings. While Small Black perform with guitars and a drum kit, their performance retains enough of an electronic feel with synthesizers and electronic beats & percussions.
This was the second time Small Black had been to San Antonio and 502Bar but the first time this reporter had seen them. I was very interested in how their first single from '09, “Despicable Dogs”, was going to be performed and how the full-band interpretation of that lo-fi electronic song would be recreated. They took the core of the song and some key elements and filled them out. The beat was mostly there but the identifying synth had been replaced with a guitar and the song was done at a faster tempo. The crowd loved it (including me) and then they transitioned into their current single “Boys Life”. Again, a crowd favorite. Small Black were careful and deliberate. Aware of their audience, Small Black were never overly enthusiastic but towards the latter half of the show, they allowed themselves to let loose a little especially during “Boys Life”. The new single set the room on fire with timed lighting and a chorus that drops like a hit.
Painted Palms, the methodical and well rehearsed duo from Lafayette sounded like a type synth rock that toggles between the 80s and textbook electro-pop songwriting. With a drummer in tow, they weren’t too moody or dark like Depeche Mode and not too poppy like Tears For Fears. These were singable songs performed by a band that’s fun to watch. At times the vocal took on a pre-classic rock style, almost a Buddy Holly-era vocalization, his voice was crisp and bold. The synth player never stopped moving or dancing to the music and looked like he just walked off the set of Miami Vice with his flamingo sweater and cutoff shorts. Painted Palms were pretty damn good live and I highly recommend making it out to a show while they're on tour with Small Black, both groups are solid.
I applaud the entire effort by the bands and 502Bar last night, the sound and all the synthy, dreampop goodness nailed it.