review and photos by Philip LaRose
Last Monday night when I went to Nectar Lounge to see The Juan MacLean and The Field, I didn’t know that I’d be at the hottest show in town. These two groups played sizzling sets of electronica to a packed and enthusiastic crowd. DJ Nordic Soul warmed up the club with a solid mix of dance music.
The Field is the stage name of musician and producer Alex Willner, who builds his music out of samples and loops and synthesizers. He has ties to minimalist and ambient electronica, as his music features long repetitions of rhythms that are added, changed, and dropped slowly over the course of the piece. However, these rhythmic patterns play out over a quick dance beat, making the music vibrant rather than languid. For this tour he enhanced the live aspect of the music by sharing the parts with a couple musicians, one who alternated between bass and drums, and another who mainly played additional synth but also played some guitar and glockenspiel. (A fourth person spent all his time a little off to the side at a laptop, and I couldn’t tell whether he was contributing to the music as well or mixing the accompanying video projections.) Having these additional musicians helped forge a strong connection with the audience, who could see when a featured part, such as the bells or the drums, was being played and thus could relate the musicians to the music—a relationship often lost in the button-pushing knob-twisting realm of deep electronica. And the audience responded to this connection with great enthusiasm, cheering loudly and bouncing a lot. The Field’s music is very cool stuff, and I could easily listen for a few hours; it seems tailor-made for airplane flights, and I’ll have to pick up the aptly-named album From Here We Go Sublime before my next trip.
While The Field kept the club simmering for an hour, The Juan MacLean brought it up to a full boil with their high-energy synth rock. John MacLean and Nancy Whang shared vocals, synths, and miscellaneous percussion, backed by Nicholas Milhiser on additional keys and percussion and John Fuchs on a mixed electronic and acoustic drum set. MacLean also had a theremin hooked up to his synth, and sometimes he just let it color the synth sound, but sometimes he totally rocked out on the theremin directly, which was amazing to see and hear. Although MacLean’s theremin skills were the most obvious sign of rocking out, followed closely by Fuchs’ motion-blurred drumming, all of the musicians contributed to the electrifying performance. Despite the predominant role of synths in the band, the music had a very warm and vital sound that had the whole club hopping. They built up to a stunning conclusion with “Happy House”, extended to over 20 minutes and climaxing several times, and then cooled things down in the encore with the mellow and dreamy “Tonight”. Both songs and much of the set came from their latest album The Future Will Come, which I also need to add to my collection. This was a great show and I’d love to see both bands again soon.