Chillwave has not aged well, my friends, and long since gone are the genre’s salad days of a little over five years ago. At its inception, the genre offered a burgeoning batch of exciting young artists in rapid succession with Toro Y Moi, Washed Out, and Neon Indian leading the laid-back pack. It’s hard to say what exactly accounts for the party’s abrupt end in light of its initial abundance of success and support, but it’s easy to recognize that the falling rate mirrors the swiftness of the genre’s ascent. Over the years, the once-kings of indie either went on to release undeniably substandard material or to fade away completely, disappearing from the public eye as chillwave became the butt of jokes. I haven’t thought seriously about the genre or its players for ages and, as a direct consequence, I nearly fell out of my goddamn chair when I read a highly favorable review on VEGA INTL. Night School, a new chillwave record from Neon Indian set for release on October 16th. It was kind of like seeing a ghost.
In what feels like the blink of an eye I found myself striding briskly to Webster Hall, my breath reeking of bourbon, my leather jacket on, and my ticket tightly clasped in my sweaty hand. I’ll admit that were it not for the tremendously favorable record reviews across the board, I would not likely have attended the event. A Neon Indian show in 2015 sounds a sad, random, has-been affair at best on paper. I am pleased to report, however, that contrary to my expectation the experience was anything but sad as a packed house witnessed the glorious resuscitation of both a genre and an artist’s career. And hot damn, what fun!
In contrast to seeing an act like Panda Bear where there is little focus on the actual performance element, performance appears tremendously important to Neon Indian and they prove to be very talented showmen. Alan Polamo is no mere lead-singer but instead a frontman in every sense of the word, the main event, dancing constantly in all white and sporting a tie front and center as the band, clad in black, plays dutifully in the dark on the hinterlands of the stage. To the left, a blue neon sign featuring “INTL. Vega” and to the right, a similar sign featuring “Night School” in cursive. As the band plays, an incredible display of visuals produced for the tour enhances the experience, most notably featuring cubic, shape shifting, colorful renditions of the band before my bloodshot eyes.
But with the impeccable performance style came musical substance to back it, thank God, and the mix of new material with the occasional throwback quickly reminds one of what all the buzz was about back in the golden age of chillwave. Next to the more upbeat and supremely danceable “Annie,” “Terminally Chill,” that aptly named blast from the past, is most welcome, allowing those of us in the audience to catch our collective breath on the front end of the show. One of the only troubles with their performance at Webster concerns the vocals, which were tough to make out for the majority of the show. Fortunately, though lyrics are important for Neon Indian, the main draw lies in the melting synth work, the warm melodies, and the generally positive, mid-summer feel surrounding the music. For much of the show I found myself pleasantly lost in dance and under the spell of enveloping good vibrations when “Polish Girl” wakes me from the dream with a firm, fun reminder that the reality of the moment is, in fact, delightful. On occasion, Polamo stops dancing like some yachting yuppie to play synthesizer lead but he never allows himself to be obstructed or confined by the machine, returning to center stage (where he belongs) whenever possible. On the tail end, “Slumlord” and “Slumlord’s Re-Issue” are the clear highlights, singlehandedly making a strong case for chillwave’s reemergence in 2015.
It’s hard to believe that VEGA INTL. Night School is the first album they have released since 2011’s Era Extrana given the consistency of style and similarity of ideas. It’s as if the band has been cryogenically frozen since their last release but old fan’s will be pleased to hear that their reanimation has been a smash success and one guaranteed to win over new listeners. Their live show manages never to be self-serious but instead, serious about having and inspiring fun. If Neon Indian is playing near you, you’d best throw on your dancin’ shoes and hit the floor pronto because you are bound to have a real good time. Oh, and have a drink first too. Something big and brown. It’s always worked for me. Over and out.