Typically, a sold out show at the Independent is a shoulder-to-shoulder rowdy good time: drunk fans yell and cheer, bodies sway, merriment ensues. Even more often, a bombastic light show simply enhances the experience for all parties, drunk and sober.
Forget that. On Friday night, UK soul/warped-electro funk artist Jamie Lidell managed to gather all the good will in the room and deflate it, slowly but surely, using a deadly combination of un-danceable dance beats and forgettable vocal noodle-ings, all of which managed to take his rather enticing studio work and grind it down into its most useless parts — over and over again. Nevermind the over-the-top light show that attempted to compensate for Lidell’s complete lack of stage presence.
Sure, he didn’t look nervous, but a sticky used-car salesmen enthusiasm hung over the set: Lidell name-dropped opening for James Brown (after protesting that he wasn’t “name-dropping”) and often took to bowing or thanking the crowd profusely between songs — even though the crowd was barely cheering. Lost somewhere in his own world where the $20 ticket price was justified, Lidell poked away on a laptop a few times as he set the controls for the world’s most comprehensive karaoke backing track. Yikes.
Brooklyn’s Empress Of, however, proved to be a far more capable live group. Led by singer/songwriter Lorely Rodriguez, the electro-pop band pushed through a dance-ready set of lush songs as Rodriguez — a compelling new voice — shimmied and sang with a joyous passion. Reminiscent of the new wave of female electro-pop groups like Grimes, Empress Of’s seductive synths and humanity stood in welcome contrast to Lidell’s robotic, tedious, and uninspired performance.
Footnote: The best punchline came early in the set when Lidell played the aptly titled “When I Come Back Around” and I overheard a fellow suffering audience member mumble: No, please don’t.