Live Review: Glass Animals with Vedas and Tei Shi at U Street Music Hall, Washington DC – 8th July 2014

By on Thursday, 10th July 2014 at 2:00 pm

Electro psych and soul outfit Glass Animals are on their first headline tour of America. It’s the dead of summer here in Washington – the mercury hit 35 C before it started raining on unfortunate punters queued outside of the U Street Music Hall before doors opened – and yet somehow, on their first visit to DC, the Oxford band managed to crank the heat way up inside the cavernous basement venue during their sweltering, groovy set Tuesday night in the Nation’s Capital. No mean feat, considering earlier in the same place when it was empty, I had wrapped my Union Jack scarf around my icy shoulders to try and warm up in the air-conditioning. No such warmth needed once the place was rammed, with the show selling out just minutes before the first band was due on.

Electronic duo Vedas – singer Alex Lee on electronics and synths and Andrew Monbourne on drums – are local to DC; we posted their EP ‘Exhume’ back in April when it was released. The duo were a last-minute addition to the line-up and served as a nice, light aperitif to the evening’s proceeding. In hindsight, the choice made perfect sense, as Lee’s dream poppy vocals are delivered in a falsetto, not entirely unlike those of Glass Animals’ frontman Dave Bayley, who also favours a falsetto on certain tracks. Also, their style was in some ways similar to the second opener, Tei Shi.

The stage was crowded with setups and instruments from all three bands on the line-up and for Vedas’ set, this included electronic tea lights and a distinctive old-fashioned looking lamp that happened to be sat right in front of us. I have to give props to both musicians, as while they initially looked a bit daunted by the size of the crowd they had to play to, they took it in their stride, with Lee confidently announcing that they had never played to so many people and this was an amazing moment for them; this almost elicited a tear from me. Bless. This kind of music dictates confidence and there’s no room for weakness in ethereal music: ‘Cairo’, their closing number, was breathy and dreamy as it is on record.

Tei Shi, aka Valerie Teicher, is originally from Bogota, Colombia and was raised in Vancouver, Canada, but like so many indie artists, she now calls Brooklyn home. The Glass Animals – Tei Shi connection was obvious to fans of both bands: they are already friends, with Tei Shi having recently collaborated with the Oxfordians on their track ‘Holiest’, which appeared on their ‘Gooey’ EP released earlier this year. In June, Teicher appeared at Toronto’s NXNE festival, and she performed at both of Glass Animals’ All Things Go gigs in New York City and DC this week.

She’s an interesting character, coming on stage in a filmy lacy blouse and bright green trousers. Hmm, ok, sort of a boho vibe? Besides her guest vocals on ‘Holiest’, I didn’t know anything about her, so I was going into her set cold. Like Vedas before her, the songs earlier in her set had a dreamy quality to them, as she emoted while pressing buttons on sequencers on a table in front of her, backed by a synth-playing guitarist (wielding a six-string axe) and a drummer.

However, when her music’s mood dictated it – when things got more soulful, the sound louder and more beat-heavy, and admittedly, more to my liking – the blouse was shorn, revealing a tight-fitting top that would have made Beyonce proud. I’m mentioning this, because while she covered Mrs. Carter’s ‘No Angel’, she insisted directly after that when she saw Sasha Fierce live in concert in New York this week, she would not feel worthy of having covered it. Why? Own it, girlfriend, because the DC audience clearly has your back on this one. Irrefutable evidence of the heat inside of U Hall was the sudden disappearance of her drummer’s glasses near the end of her set; his lenses must have fogged up! He later revealed post-show that he’s near-sighted but could still drum without them on. Thank goodness for us.

There is something about the sound of Glass Animals that, depending on the vibe of a song, will make me want to break out certain arm gestures or move my hips in a certain way. It’s almost involuntary now. (I must be quite amusing to other motorists as I’m listening to ‘Zaba’ on the commute home on the motorway each evening. Children point at me and laugh. I am okay with this.) There were so many people there Tuesday night, I felt like a packed-in sardine. The girl who suddenly appeared next to me mid-set with her boyfriend and their bumping and grinding to the music, um… I want to make it clear that while I’m an appreciator of sensual music, well, there are some things that cannot be unseen. Eep. I mentioned this couple to Dave after the show and he replied with a laugh, “yeah, strange things happen at our shows…” So maybe this is just par for the course for a Glass Animals gig these days. It was our Carrie who first said at the band’s debut at SXSW this year that theirs was baby-making music. Whatever floats your boat. Or increases the world’s population, I suppose…

At the same time though, I can’t help but feel really happy for their sudden seemingly overnight popularity here in the States. As an American who happens to be the editor of a music Web site, I’ve often been surprised by what kind of music starts selling like hotcakes and what doesn’t. However, when it comes to Glass Animals, I’m not surprised, given what songs are always on the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100: urban, soul and/or hip hop tracks. It’s only a matter of time before the Oxford band’s music takes its rightful place on mainstream radio here.

In the meantime though, it’s great to be able to see this band in such a relatively small place perform their thrilling live show, which ends up being quite different to the experience you get listening to the album. The melodies are the same of course, but everything’s turned up to 11, making everything feel more muscular, more kinetic. If you haven’t seen their BBC Introducing performance of ‘Hazey’ at Glastonbury yet, you really should: with less dreamy sassiness compared to and an acute absence of the finger snaps present on the recorded version, it’s a tambourine dream, with frontman Dave Bayley starting with a frantic shaking of the instrument in front of guitarist / synth player Drew MacFarlane before bounding forward, teetering and bopping around on stage like an over wound-up toy. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The headline set began with what was a deceptively gentle haze of sonic power, easing us in with older number ‘Psylla’ and fan favourite ‘Black Mambo’. While we didn’t have palm trees like their Southbank Centre Meltdown show in London last month, the strobe-y lighting that wasn’t great for photography did add a party atmosphere that was second to none. While us here at TGTF were in the know about the Kanye West ‘Love Lockdown’ cover ages ago when the four-piece were in Australia, it appears many people weren’t until the BBC recorded the band playing it at Glastonbury, including Clash Magazine. Let me just tell you, everyone down the front lost it when the song appeared in the set. Absolutely mental. I don’t think most people were ready for it. As should be expected, worldwide internet sensation ‘Gooey’ was another crowd favourite, the peanut butter vibes oozing all over the entire place while bodies inevitably bumped (mostly not accidentally, I reckon) in the crowd. Current single and upcoming EP title track ‘Pools’, with its joyful beats and Bayley’s charming lyrics, left quite the impression on punters to close out the night on a high note. (No pun intended.)

I thought about the time we were stood in front of them on the last day of SXSW this year at the British Music Embassy and everyone was relatively civilised when they broke out this song. Well, ladies and gentlemen, say goodbye, because those days are over. Glass Animals and their sultry blend of electronics and r&b are here to stay. You’re either getting on this train, or you’ll be left behind.

After the cut: Glass Animals’ set list.

Glass Animals’ Set List:
Black Mambo
Walla Walla
Cocoa Hooves
Love Lockdown (Kanye West cover)

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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