Trevor Powers sits center stage, his long coiled hair bouncing in rhythm as he pounds down on his keyboard. The audience is held captive, unable to draw their eyes from the stage as the music flies onwards, dancing with brilliance.
On Monday 18th November, American band Youth Lagoon performed at the Debaser Medis venue in Stockholm to a few thousand people. Youth Lagoon, the creation of Trevor Powers, 24, are touring Europe on the back of their two highly acclaimed albums. Their first album, 2011’s Year of Hibernation was no overnight success, yet its enduring warmth grew in popularity via word of mouth, becoming one of the critic darling albums of the year. It was very much a lo-fi, do it yourself record; washed over vocals combined with simple piano riffs, often gradually building layer upon layer to uplifting crescendos. There was a beautiful charm to the record, one that despite some fairly bleak lyrics themed on isolation, felt built for warm summer evenings. They then returned last year with their follow up Wondrous Bughouse. Though not a shift in direction it marked a major development in their sound; song structures were more varied, experimentation with both lyrics and sound was far more apparent. It may not of been as immediately rewarding as his previous effort, yet it was a record that when spent time with, its various subtleties began to emerge, hidden nuances that propelled the LP into one of the most captivating and exciting albums of the year.
Tonight the prospect of seeing YL live invites an intriguing prospect, largely in regards to how well their music would translate to a live setting. The venue could not have suited the band better; a small, quaint room complete with long, draped red curtains as if prepared for a theatre show, and true to setting, it was a show that Youth Lagoon put on. From the outset they were on imperious form, immediately hitting their stride.
Youth Lagoon constitutes of four people, themselves a wonderful array of long hair, thick beards and wooly hats; completely representative of the appearance of the crowd watching on. Musically they were flawless, completely responsive to one another, most apparent in creating the sprawling, epic endings so evident in much of their catalogue. Throughout, there was no real let up in the music as tracks merged into one another, a concoction of noise, seamlessly blending together. Centre stage, holding them all as one was Powers. In the beginning his voice was almost too much, yet once the audio was slightly adjusted it was the cornerstone of the performance, fragile, cracked and haunting, it was the heart to the band’s sound.
If there can be one criticism to be leveled at them however, it would be the slight repetitiveness to their set, songs often starting with Powers alone on his keyboard, before a verse was delivered and the rest of the band would join in to drive the song forward. This however is a minor quibble, and in many cases it worked to brilliant effect, creating the intimacy of his music before opening up into a full blown spectacle.
Raspberry Cane, the penultimate track off Wondrous Bughouse, was a fine illustration of this, so slight in the beginning before building to its colossal climax, crescendos bundling over one in musical celebration. In fact that large majority of the music was centered on his second LP, the core of it being played out, with snippets from his debut making appearances at choice moments. It was one of these, July, which was the evenings highlight. It was the towering centerpiece of the set, expanded from the record version, it was the pulsating standout song of the night, with the band powering down on their instruments in frantic cohesion.
Finally they closed the set with Dropla, Power’s painful lament to his dying Grandma. Dripping with sweat, he clung on to the closing line, whispering it out on repeat. It was a captivating and in many ways completely appropriate end to the show: “you will never die, you will never die, you will never die”, echoing long into the night.