Live Review: Delorean with Mas Ysa at Black Cat, Washington DC – 25th January 2014

By on Monday, 27th January 2014 at 2:00 pm

Washington is currently suffering through the coldest winter I can remember in over a decade. I’ve considered this is probably adversely affecting the turnout at shows in the Nation’s Capital. The best thing I think you can say about weekend shows, especially in the dead of such a season, is that you can fill up on booze to warm you up as necessary because you don’t have work in the morning. Judging from a quick scan of the main room at the Black Cat Saturday night and indeed, the folks right around where I was stood down the front, the drinks were flowing and everyone was in good spirits Saturday night to enjoy Basque band Delorean (yes, they named themselves after Doc Brown’s chosen mode of transport in the Back to the Future films) and their brand of Balearic / indie / house / synthpop.

Support for the night was Brooklyn by way of Montreal avant garde, electronic artist Tom Arsenault, who goes by the stage name Mas Ysa (pronounced “mas EEH-sah”). While it completely made sense for Delorean to pick another electronic artist to open for them, I wasn’t sure whether Arsenault’s music was the proper warm-up for the Spaniards. I really liked what I’d heard on Arsenault’s Web site but I was bowled over by his performance live. You might not have thought this when he arrived onstage in a sweatshirt and dress trousers, looking like a frat boy trying too hard. What exactly are we going to get from this man, I wondered? Electronic artists tend to be smaller, slighter; this guy looked as imposing as a bouncer. However, as the man became more comfortable (or maybe he was just too hot, because there were too many people in the room or his adrenaline was pumping) he started shedding his layers, eventually revealing a dark t-shirt advertising the headliner’s American label True Panther, which was met with cheers of approval from the audience.

I think it’s safe to say that tortured vocals tend to only really work with singer/songwriters and folk artists, yet such vocals from Arsenault, paired off with either angelic sounding choirs or heavy dance beats, work surprisingly well all together. If you were to read the lyrics off your computer screen, you might be misled into thinking they were from some groan-worthy r&b artist trying to pick up chicks. However, in Arsenault’s emotional delivery, they come across far more sincere. His in-between song banter is also endearing; you could just tell that he was every bit boy next door and not a pretentious artiste at all. He joked after the first song, an instrumental number, “I will get my one joke over with. That last song was political. Politically charged!” Laughter. (This is Washington, DC, after all.) Nearer to the end of the set, he has all of us giggling when he insisted in a deadpan manner, “I wrote this next song”, as if he hadn’t written all of those that came before. Funny. I’m usually not enamoured with solo electro artists standing in front of a bunch of equipment, but I have to say Mas Ysa is certainly unusual.

The four members of Delorean came on at their appointed time of 11 PM, and as should be expected, there were plenty of electronics onstage that would be well utilised during their set. There was some kind of main controller in the centre of the stage that was running a programme called “ARABIC2”, though a couple of us down the front wondered what that meant. I have been waiting quite a while to see this Spanish band and maybe it’s their usual way, but I felt that much more audience interaction facilitated by singer and bassist Ekhi Lopetegi would have gone a long way in making the experience more personal. That said, no-one around me seemed to care for this minor quibble, as one great dance song oozed into another, generally without pause and no words spoken in between.

It was a good set and certainly one that our weary bones, chilled from the long, cold winter, appreciated. The girls next to me had the right idea, wearing sleeveless dresses far more appropriate for the sticky, boiling 35+ degree summers we are so famous for in DC than the subfreezing temperatures we are currently facing. Keyboardist Unai Lazcano was clearly having a ball, rocking the stand that precariously held his Nord from side to side like it was a rocking chair; I was so worried that at one point we’d be witnessing an expensive keyboard wipeout and tears would be shed, but I guess the man has mad skills!

Generally speaking, I think all us dance music lovers know that the words aren’t usually a dance band’s strong suit. Whether or not it was done on purpose, the vocal mix was muddy. I’m all about educating the next generation about good music, so I’d brought along my cousin’s daughter to expose her to music she might not ordinarily listen to, and even she noted that Lopetegi’s vocals were hard to understand. We talked about this and I considered maybe that was the point, that the band wanted us to focus on the music they were weaving onstage and less on the words? Based on the happy faces that surrounded us as the band launched into early tropical hit ‘Stay Close’, the video I included when I wrote this Bands to Watch feature on them in 2010, I can say that on Saturday night, that really didn’t matter.

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