Small Black @ Rickshaw Stop 3/25/14  - photo by Paige K. Parsons
Photos by Paige K. Parsons

When Brooklyn’s Small Black released their debut EP in 2009, it was the golden age of chillwave – a genre phrase that I can no longer utter without cringing at myself. But at the time it was fresh and completely appropriate. The Small Black EP was everything a good chillwave record should be: guitar-based synth pop that’s low-fi almost to a fault.

The Washed Out collaboration that came out the following year was just as stellar. So when I walked into Small Black’s headlining, sold-out show at Rickshaw Stop on Tuesday night, I had high expectations.

By the time Snowmine came on, the room was more packed than I had seen it in months. The band surprised me by translating their super laid back, almost bummed out recordings to an energetic stage performance. No small feat.

When Small Black came on, the audience continued dancing – but something was missing. The rough edges of the “chillwave” tunes had been smoothed out and morphed into a more clean cut kind of disco synth pop. I was disappointed, but the strange thing is I can’t really complain about the show. Both Small Black and Snowmine delivered high energy performances, complete with tight musicianship and disco space pod light shows. It’s undoubtable that both bands have a larger audience, are selling more albums and obtaining more commercial success than they did in 2010, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

It was the straightforwardness of the show, the lack of curves and edges, that made me wonder how Small Black and Snowmine’s performances would differ from a show with other bands of the same genre. When there’s nothing to make them stand out, how do they keep from seeping into the indie-pop genre puddle, where the bar can’t seem to rise past a middle rung setting?