New Zealand singer-songwriter Jonathan Bree touched down in Los Angeles on Saturday night at the Lodge Room. Bree is best known for the “You’re So Cool” video, which features Bree and his band dressed as a ’60s-era pop group wearing thin, full masks stretched over their faces. Released in 2017, the video now has over 14 million views. While the song’s plaintive strings roar front and center, the humanity in the video is rendered emotionless. It all turns into a creepy, the-mannequins-have-come-to-life-but-they’re-quite-sad music video. Regardless of what it really means, Bree hit a nerve.
Bree mostly picked from his 2018 album Sleepwalking. Highlights included the pulsating synths of “Fuck it,” and the stalker-sleek “Say You Love Me Too,” made even more creepy by the masks. Bree brings a similar “Am I human?” energy to his live performance. The entire band wears the face masks. They’re dressed like a dreamy amalgamation of ’60s pop and Puritan settlers. Bree makes no sudden movements; when the feedback on the microphone let out an ear-scarring squeal, Bree slowly moved the microphone away from his “mouth,” barely even reacting.
The two dancers who perform synchronized dance moves the entire set and sing backup vocals are the most disorienting aspect of the show. It’s hard to tell if they’re sincere or mocking you for even considering the fact that they might be serious. It is all highly choreographed, which is great, but I was left at points hoping that Bree might break character. Not necessarily remove the mask, but raise his voice or make a sudden movement. It is human to let a mask set you free, but Bree uses it as a prison — he’s locked in and barely able to move. Anonymity, Bree seems to say, won’t relieve you of your anxieties. It’s not an uplifting message, but neither is the music. That said, you might as well put your mask on and go perform anyway.