The moment the lights went down at the Paramount on Saturday night, the theater was transformed into the gilded backdrop of an extended audio-visual climax with Odesza providing the euphoric soundtrack. The Bellingham-born, Seattle-based duo cast the sold-out crowd of 2,800 as the individual stars of their own tiny movies, set within an extended party sequence, complete with big-budget lighting effects and scores of faceless extras, all running in real time. It was 90 minutes of impressionist electronica, ideal for selfies, Instagram vids and even dancing like nobody's watching.
In a recent interview, Odesza acknowledged that their rabid fanbase—we’re talking millions of streams on Soundcloud and millions more on YouTube—is drawn at least in part to the blank-slate-ness of their music. As heard on their 2014 album In Return, the music provides a screen of propulsive midtempo rhythms and blissful synthesized melodies upon which the listener projects his or her own interpretation, with only the slightest lyrical signposts to guide the way.
Throughout the night, lead producers Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight stayed in the shadows, silhouetted by undulating walls of light, flanked by a trombonist and trumpet player. The pair let the music do the talking. Or rather the suggesting: As discriminating as the duo was in sculpting their sound, they were also careful to not insert too much of themselves in it. They spoke seldom (Mills’ “It’s good to be home!” started off the show; they lovingly, sincerely thanked the crowd a few times) and, aside from dramatically beating kettle-sized tom drums on-stage, mostly underplayed the human muscle behind the music. When they performed their remix of “Saola” by onetime tour buddies/fellow Seattleites Beat Connection, they could’ve brought out BC singer Tom Eddy to provide live vocals but deployed a sample instead. The words to “Say My Name” and “Sun Models” were mostly hidden under layers of boom and warble, snippets like “…I wanna dance with you…” and “…fall in love…” rising through the music’s blanketing warmth. These are words every one of us wishes to hear as soon and as often as possible; the music granted that wish. At all times, the listener was the center of Odesza’s perfect world.
And the music mirrored the storyline. Around song two, a gaggle of 20-somethings circle-danced beneath their own spotlight while a friend, arm stretched overhead, filmed video. Further toward the middle of the floor, someone held what looked like a softball-sized satellite on a metal rod over the crowd for the duration of the set; it was a 360-degree video camera.
In the same way that UK duo Basement Jaxx used house music as a pop template in the late ‘90s, Odesza opens the door on trap to a wider audience. Even the shapes of the sounds both bands use are similar: massive drums, smooth melodic edges, glistening production, a sense of intoxicated sensualism if not outright sex. Odesza, however, did not prod or provoke; there was nothing in the music’s thundering utopianism that might alienate or intimidate. The tempo remained settled into safe, secure middle ground. Where electronic acts once intentionally pushed and pulled at their crowd, Odesza provided a raft and the crowd floated along, friction-free, romanced and detached. The set-ending confetti shower—teased all show long by the canons visible on either wing of the stage—was a fait accompi.
Surprisingly, the last song of the 90-minute set—the second of two encore tunes—roughed up the crowd a bit. The as-yet unreleased song, reminiscent of club hits by trap fusionists Hudson Mohawke and Lunice, rolled on marshal, menacing horns and overloaded bass. It felt risky, dangerous, refreshing—Odesza finally acting on their own volition rather than in deference to the crowd.
Tonight is the last of Odesza’s three sold-out shows at the Paramount.
Photos and videos sourced from crowdalbum.