It’s been quite a year for Matthew Hemerlein. The Los Angeles-based musician operating, under the name Lo-Fang, has been piecing together his debut record Blue Film since 2009. First as a mixtape, now as a fully rendered personal work, the collection of songs seen here is awe-inspiring and strikingly unique. Hemerlein grew up a classically trained musician and now knows his way around the violin, cello, guitar, piano, and upright bass like nobody’s business. Stringing all those together along with a knack for dark electronic production, Blue Film caught the attention of 4AD, who released the record this past February. It also caught the attention of last year’s breakthrough pop star Lorde, who took Lo-Fang along with her on US dates stretching from March through mid-April (including her Seattle date at WaMu just a few weeks ago). Hemerlein’s proper debut has been a long time in the making, but he sure made it count.
This month, Lo-Fang is taking a break from the stadium shows to play headlining gigs in a dozen or so US cities on his way home, leading up through an appearance at First City Festival in Monterey, CA. He stopped by Barboza Tuesday night to wow an excited crowd with his haunting and entrancing musical wonders. Together with an opening set from Erik Walters of Silver Torches, Lo-Fang’s first Seattle date since the Blue Film release was an easy success.
Seattle’s own Erik Walters opened the night up with great energy with or without cooperation from his laptop. Walters has been making waves on the Seattle scene for years now, formerly in Barsuk band The Globes, and now under his new moniker of Silver Torches. Tonight, Walters explained that the other members of the band were out due to sickness, and thus, he’d try his second ever performance with the help of a laptop backing track. After a song or two of beautiful, vast arrangements, the laptop started giving out on Walters, so instead of fumbling with it, he just made due and played the rest of his material in the stripped down arrangement of just vocals and guitar. Many of the great tunes from Silver Torches’ debut LP The Living Fact made an appearance tonight. Despite the initial technical difficulties, the crowd was receptive to Walters and enjoyed witnessing his skills as a singer and songwriter first and foremost this evening.
Hemerlein opened up his set taking the stage solo, manning his guitar, but making sure violin was close at hand. After queuing up a minimal drum track, Hemerlein started building a foundational guitar loop. As the sounds started to take shape, he added in some lines of violin and soon, the picture started to emerge – it was “Look Away”, the gorgeous Blue Film opener. With the stage set, Hemerlein took to the vocals, ghostly and riveting as ever, manning the loops he had conjured out of thin air with his feet, both hands being full of guitar and violin. As the song came to a climax, his band entered to help out with an extensively sweeping coda to the song, bringing the track to explosive levels before quieting again and diving into “Boris”. Then, the process began again, with Hemerlein assembling uncanny musical layers with three of his four appendages, using the fourth to stand, while the band provided appropriate layering and accompaniment behind. All in perfect form, Hemerlein was spectacle to witness and a wonder to listen to.
After burning through much of the Blue Film material including single “#88” and fan favorite “Animal Urges”, things simmered down a bit and Hemerlein picked up a cello. He began to pluck out what looked like it was going to be a gorgeous, toned-back rendition of “When We’re Fire”, but with the crowd as electric as it was, Hemerlein canned the idea and brought back the band for a full-fledged pop spectacle. With his instruments down for the first time all night, Hemerlein moved around the stage and provided ample amounts of fan service for the dance-friendly number. After one more number, Hemerlein bade farewell. No encore needed – tonight’s celebration of Lo-Fang’s banner year was an all-encompassing and entirely satisfying experience.