Performing at a 2,000-capacity rock club, it's hard to ease listeners into that kind of attentive headspace. They're not lying in the bath with headphones on, or seated at a table in some hushed jazz club, hanging on the band's every note. Naturally then, for a studio-focused project, bands must often adapt their sound to the live space by kicking the energy level up, or by simplifying some of their more complex tendencies. That's exactly what Floating Points, AKA Sam Shepherd, did for his show at the newly-opened Williamsburg venue Brooklyn Steel, where he appeared before a rack of synths, accompanied by a bass player, guitarist and drummer.
The live show gave the drums a more prominent role, a shift that Shepherd foreshadowed on last year's single, "Kuiper," which traded delicate electronica for something more proggy. It was a smart move, one that's clearly been tested on the road, and it suited the big room context better than if they'd played tried-and-true renditions of his album tracks. But it also detracted from what made Elaenia so arresting, by turning this free-wheeling, gaseous music into something more palpable, something more like run-of-the-mill post-rock jams. The album's original spirit shone brightest in the moments when Shepherd's synths would run away from him—when his spiraling arpeggios or layers of echo would twist one too many times and nearly breach some invisible membrane. But then, just as quickly, the set would recalibrate back into something more orderly.
That's not to say Brooklyn Steel didn't suit the band. The sound was astoundingly clear, with a razor-sharp mix that kept each instrument from crowding the frequency range. The low-end was robust enough to make its presence felt, though the place was clearly engineered for rock bands so it didn't have the sharp resolution you might get at a techno club of the same size.
On the way out I stopped to read through the venue's list of upcoming gigs, which was heavy on indie rock acts like The Decemberists, Pixies, Ween and Father John Misty. That means I probably won't end up back here often, but for the occasional adventurous booking, like Arca and Jesse Kanda in July, I'd happily return to see any of my favorite acts on the big stage—and in high definition.
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