KEXP has a special love for Operators in the live setting. Sure, synth-heavy brainchild of Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, Divine Fits) would fit on KEXP’s airwaves regardless, but we have history together. Three days after the band announced it existed, they played on KEXP and later in the day at Barboza, where they threw a raucous party and invited people up onto the stage for dancing during the single “True“. Fast forward a year, and Operators joined us for Iceland Airwaves, throwing down one of the most blistering sets of the week, showing off all unheard material, all in pitch perfect form. And this week, the band returns to Seattle for the first time since their radio debut, playing an extremely good new record Blue Wave at an extremely sold out show upon the Sunset Tavern stage. Together with Bogan Via, Dan and the gang brought the house down in quintessential form.
Bogan Via are a great pairing to be on tour with Operators right now. First off, of the duo’s handful of EP releases (latest called Madly) and LP BOGANVIALAND all put songwriting first. The two write thoughtful, melancholic pop miniatures, laced with strong vocal harmonies akin to Dirty Projectors. The electronic texturing of their music feels less like a starting point than it does a natural means to an end – the most conducive mode of transport to bring their melodies to the ears of listeners. In this way, Bogan Via operate and deliver in similar ways as their stage counterpart. The band burned through a good selection of their repertoire including their great single “Kanye“. Altogether, Bogan Via got great energy going in the room, warming it with equal parts good songwriting and Arizonan charm.
When you have enough cable on the ground to make the stage look like something on board the Nostromo, you are bound to have a couple technical hiccups. Operators began their set this way, as if only to build the tension. It pushed the set 15 minutes, and guess what? No one complained. The packed out back room at Sunset Tavern was willing to wait 15 more minutes. Dan Boeckner, along with Divine Fits drummer Sam Brown and synth player (and solo songwriter) Devojka, was going to make the house shake to its knees. Anyone present at the impact point at Barboza two years ago knew it. Anyone that saw them on the remaining tour dates with Future Islands or in the following year or at Iceland Airwaves knew it too. Operators, once a solo vessel for Dan to write some personal songs on synthesizers in Divine Fits downtime, is now and forever will be a live bomb of a band. Sam’s impeccable drumming probably has something to do with that, as does Devojka’s cool, calculated mastery of the table of wires at the center. So once the final ok went through on the soundboard, the band jumped to the stage for a final role call on the microphones before the final chance to pile forward to dance. Because after that, it was all hearts on fire from here on out.
Operators played new album Blue Wave (out now on Last Gang) in its entirety, all chopped up and thrown out of order, all in thrilling new living sound. Blue Wave is a record that sounds really good – so, so much better than their already good-sounding EP debut was. Where the EP was self-produced and mixed to showcase Dan’s fun new bucket of sounds (a much more expansive collection of analog synth magic than the purposefully restrictive collection he used on Handsome Furs), producer Graham Walsh helps Boeckner make Blue Wave sound like it has a singular sonic mission, with different shades and flavors to all fulfill a larger purpose alongside each other. That feeling is exponentiated when you hear Blue Wave live. Hearing Dan rip into the guitar of lead track “Rome” right off the band, the room felt electric like tonight was the night and nothing mattered tomorrow. Hearing the pounding drum and throbbing synth of “Control”, the dance floor was the only frontier left to discover. Operators made the world seem new again, cast through the cold light.
Of course, it also helps that you could watch each of the band’s individual members do their thing for hours on end. Sam Brown, without question, has to be one of the best drummers we’ve got right now. Watching that dude rip through “Shape of Things”, you see him swat hi-hats like the karate kid and throw rim shots you thought you needed a third arm for – it will make you nauseous. Then there’s Devojka, whose occasional vocal responsibilities mark the only times she looks up from a table of knobs and blinking dots in front of her. It looks like rocket science, and yet it sounds like dance music. Devojka’s calculated precision gives the band practically as much backbone as Brown’s drumming. And then, there’s Dan, whose charm and charisma as a frontman is only outweighed by uncanny ability to multitask with style. There was never a time on stage when Dan was doing less than three things, two of which (most of the time) were singing and freaking the hell out doing whatever dancing/shaking/ecstasy by osmosis thing he does on stage. Elsewhere, he’d rip out ridiculous guitar riffs (“Nobody” and “Evil” both taking the cake in this department), add to the pile of synthesizers in dazzling form (the saxophones of the “Blue Wave”
studio version were replaced by bleating blasts of synth horn from Mr Boeckner’s setup), or crack awesome jokes (“When I was writing this, I was like, does this sound like mid-period Nine Inch Nails? Because if it does, awesome.”). It’s easy to get lost in the sheer excellence being presented on the small stage here at the Sunset.
After burning through the whole record, the band returned for an encore, playing non-album track “I Die” and EP lead single “True“. Seattle was ecstatic to party with Operators and celebrate a big accomplishment in them releasing their debut album into the world, and getting to go back to the beginning here at the end was a treat. The whole of the Sunset sang along with enthusiasm. “You’ve got… one, one, one, one… true love!” the crowd screamed. We do have one true love in the synth rock department, and it’s Operators.