Liam Cushing / The New York Times

October 9, 2016

Two Takes: Glass Animals at the State Theatre

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Experimental psychedelic rock group Glass Animals played at the State Theatre on October 1. Two Daily Sun writers took in the concert and gave their thoughts on the night.

“They Can Hold You — Glass Animals at the State” by Jessie Weber

The Glass Animals’ performance Saturday at the State Theatre was nothing short of glorious. I had the great pleasure of seeing a band that was even better live than I had hoped it would be, and they managed the crowd so effortlessly that I’m finding it difficult to write a piece that can match up to their performance.

The night started barely a minute beyond the listed 8 p.m. with a small-piece opening band who whipped through a half-hour-and-some set and smacked the audience raw.  The crowd, more or less stationary before the set began, turned as a synchronized pack and rushed to stand before the stage as quick as an exhale in the exact moment that the lead singer wrapped her hands around the mic. She made no announcement, simply began to wail her world to us and the room responded kindly to it, bobbing only a little awkwardly to the rhythm of her overtly involved (and at times reminiscent of The Exorcist) dancing as one of her bandmates swung in with a low-lying saxophone to wrap the group’s sound in a rugged bow.

This band kind of cradled everyone in the room. You get the sense, listening to them and watching the way their energy travels through the crowd, that they’re holding in a pent-up energy and constantly biting off the urge to throw it at you. It makes for a strangely enjoyable tension that never really stops building nor is ever quite released.  The lead singer, throwing her arms to the ceiling in a wraith-like white dress and platform boots, casts a striking presence into a theatre that could be pure reservation on a different night. Right before their final song, they started eliciting too much feedback from their equipment and, in her only show of nervousness, the singer paused and, throwing her hands in the air, commanded the audience, “let’s just scream!”  Admittedly it was one of the weirder things I’ve seen someone do on stage, but it worked, and it drove them into their final track, wrapping up a job well done.

The stage itself was fairly low-maintenance, with nothing but three cacti, a pineapple and two massive light-up Tetris pieces creating its frame. Unexpected for a group like Glass Animals?  Not so much. But neither was it predictable. And it was plenty for this show.  With a space of just over thirty minutes between the opener and Glass Animals, the crowd started to mill a little restlessly, roaming to buy more beer, checking how many people had liked their Instagram posts from earlier in the day.

And suddenly the crowd rushed the stage all at once as this four-man tribe of geniuses called a band led us right in with “Life Itself,” off their 2016 album How to be a Human Being. The first time that Bayley began to croon “Come back down to my knees/gotta get back/gotta get free” his voice was almost swallowed by the intensity of everyone shouting his own lyrics back at him.  The crowd lost it, and with good reason — experiencing Glass Animals alive feels a lot like the most majestic lucid dream you’ve never had.  The group creates space that is so organized, so cleanly delivered, it’s a gift to the room.  Joe Seaward was reliable and followed through with a beat so lithe you had to wonder if you were even able to separate the rest of the music from it.  Drew MacFarlane and Edmund Irwin-Singer create the perfect cocoon for Dave Bayley’s vocals. Their music is luminescent, and it comes off as being precisely measured — though there’s such an easygoing fluidity to their sound that you’re stuck with the paradox of trying to count the number of hours it would have taken them to create something so obviously innate.

The entire concert was an absurdity of moving parts. The at times stern and certainly regal State Theatre found itself filled with writhing students and Ithaca residents moving as one beneath a ceiling studded with fake stars and covered with the outlines of constellations.  The air reeked of sweat, beer and weed but it was subdued by the space’s grandeur and the sheer awe of the moment. Uniformed ushers watched calmly from the rear of the room and in the outside hall, while upstairs in the bathrooms there were at least two girls throwing up into expensive toilets and tossing crumpled paper towels directly onto the black-tiled floors.  In the midst of their encore, the band was joined by several audience members who began to twirl aimlessly across the stage, triumphant as they were gently pushed off by a security guard even though the band members almost didn’t seem to notice them. The State Theatre embraced a four-man group calmly oozing out some kind of mix between trip-hop and indie psychedelic pop, and instead of idle head nodding or trickles of words spilling from the mouths of some scattered devoted audience member, the vast majority of the crowd was pushing right up to the lip of the stage, throwing their limbs wherever they could find the space, and spouting out every word to every song in unison with Bayley. This is the most engaged I’ve seen a crowd in Ithaca yet.

This group, the same age as most of its audience members, exudes such a comfortable professionalism that it’s difficult not to be taken aback by them. More impressive is the way that they manage to reach back through that outer layer to convey a heartfelt and mutual experience with the audience. Bayley several times stopped to grin at the crowd and was visibly egged on to dance harder the more that he was cheered on. While responding to the resounding demand for an encore, the members stopped and literally bowed to the audience with their arms outstretched in gratitude. They treated everything the space gave them like that kid getting an avocado on Christmas, and then they gave us back even more.  Honestly, this band could do no wrong up there.  The genuine nature of the artists and the strange beauty of what they craft for you is really something to experience for yourself. Seeing them live gave new dimension to a group that I’ve long admired, and it’s left me looking for a lot more to come. This review isn’t what Glass Animals deserves and I’ll admit it — but I had to write something, and I’m still trying to learn how to be human with everyone else. Luckily, we’ve got a blueprint now. Thank you for a great show.

Jessie Weber is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jwl372@cornell.edu. 

“Act 2 Song 3” by Ryan Slama

On the night of the Glass Animals concert, my friend was 300 miles away at the Kanye West concert in Cleveland. He was texting me updates about the concert, telling me that the only opening act was prerecorded atmospheric bass noises. Surprisingly, the opener for the Glass Animals concert presented a similar experience.

The opening act, Pumarosa, defines themselves as “industrial spiritual” and was far from the right artist to pair with the smooth vibes expected from a Glass Animals show. The band has four songs (plus one remix) available for streaming on Spotify. The studio versions of the tracks are rich and textured with layers of instruments, but the music just did not translate well to the Glass Animals concert or the live stage in general. Part of this was not necessarily the band’s fault; the mix was muddled and plagued with feedback for several songs. However, the largest part of the problem was that the band did not fit the audience. With lyrics like “Oh, you stupid son of a bitch!” Pumarosa’s set was angry and intense: the polar opposite of the band to come. The sold-out crowd attempted to appreciate the music and dance, but quickly wore out from the sounds that were inaccessible and unfamiliar. The other notable aspect about Pumarosa was the lead singer’s dancing, which is best described as somewhere between a satanic ritual and a Die Antwood music video. The harsh vibes and industrial aesthetic would be better suited opening for a hard rock or metal act than the electronic indie rock that was to follow. Pumarosa’s performance made it hard not to wish that D.R.A.M. was opening instead as he did a few days prior at the Glass Animals show in Terminal 5.

By the time Glass Animals hit the stage, the crowd was begging for a change of pace. Unfortunately, the leading song, “Life Itself,” which should have been a high point of the concert was plagued with the same overbearing bass as Pumarosa’s tracks. The beginning of the performance was saved by virtue of the dedicated fan base’s ability to instantly recognize the songs and sing, despite the less than ideal sound quality. The other single of the new album How To Be a Human Being, “Youth,” was equally unremarkable. This problem was resolved when the band reached the third song, “Black Mambo,” which was executed perfectly. Slower than the previous songs, “Black Mambo” provided an opportunity for the band to play to their strengths. The once hard to decipher lyrics found the silky androgynous sound from the album.

The in-your-face-bass was tightened and created a rich, atmospheric foundation for the rest of the instruments. This trend continued with “Hazey” and “Poplar St.” pulling the audience headfirst into the contemplative world of Glass Animals. Between of the songs, it seemed as if frontman Dave Bailey took pleasure in saying as little as possible to the crowd. He probably spoke fewer than four complete sentences on stage, but the crowd cheered each time, even for a simple “Thank You.” “The Other Side of Paradise” marked a return to the energy of the earlier songs, but it was performed with much more grace. Each note was crisp and the song had a tangible impact on the crowd. The concert changed from being a passive experience to an active one. The band’s largest hit, “Gooey” delivered a faithful reproduction of the studio track sure to rope in anyone not familiar with the rest of the setlist. “Cane Shuga,” “Take A Slice” and “Toes” continued the band’s success streak. In particular, the synths in the chorus of “Take A Slice” translated well to the live performance. The song had a textured, expansive sound that can only be experienced in the energy and volume of a live setting. The final song, “Pools,” concluded the set on an optimistic, youthful note that left the crowd upbeat and begging for more.

While the set was excellent, the show will be remembered and defined by the encore. It was only two songs long, but it felt substantial enough to be a second act. “Season 2 Episode 3” and “Pork Soda” raised the energy of the show to a level far beyond the rest of the night. “Pork Soda’s” catchy and cryptic chorus, “Pineapples are in my head / Got nobody ’cause I’m brain-dead” lent itself to singing along and served as the high point of the night. The band has a tradition of throwing a plastic pineapple into the crowd that emphasizes the fun captured in the final song but also the attitude expressed throughout the entire performance. Despite the miscalibrated opening act, Pumarosa, and the slow start, Glass Animals delivered a phenomenal concert that left the audience with glowing faces and raving about the concert days afterwards.

Ryan Slama is a freshman in the College of Engineering. He can be reached at rms427@cornell.edu. 


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