It’s not easy being the opening band. Arcade Fire told me that in a back alley in Newport, Kentucky while my roommate gave them haircuts because they couldn’t afford Supercuts at the time (true story). But they forgot to mention how if your album just scored “Best New Music” on a certain website and the majority of the packed house is there to see you, then it’s not so bad. Throwing in a story about your grandma during your set probably doesn’t hurt though, just to seal the deal of winning over the crowd.
This Trevor Powers kid might know a thing or two about all that. His bedroom pop project Youth Lagoon saw its Brooklyn debut Friday night supporting Gardens & Villa, a groovier version of Local Natives who ended up playing second fiddle to Powers & Co.’s faithful rendition of his searing, surging LP, The Year of Hibernation. Seeing him live, it hits you over the head just how young he and his guitarist buddy Logan are — and that’s with Powers’ age being front and center of nearly every album review and saddled with a band name incorporating the word “youth.” He acts refreshingly unjaded: “It’s so packed!” “Thank you so much!” To add to it, the reverb on his voice is scaled back just a bit, revealing something slightly more pipsqueaky than what’s on the album, but he’s much more concerned with his keyboard cutting out. His grandma bought it for him in the 10th grade, you see, and “it’s a pretty awful keyboard.” He tried upgrading to a new one — to a name he can’t pronounce — but he loved this one too much to retire it. Cue his rally call, “Yay for grandmas.” Dimples. Cheers from the crowd. Hook, line and sinker.
This of course all flies in the face of his struggles with extreme anxiety — another focal point in the press — as does his general eagerness and ease of performing. I mean, isn’t he at least supposed to be self-conscious of all those crazy faces he’s making while singing? He scrunches it up like a chipmunk, gets angry during “July,” and pushes the mic out of the way with his nose so every ounce of his 22 years can lean over the keyboard-synth setup and go at it, justifying the album’s wide-open spaces as much as the steadily mounting swells. No better example of this than at the end, though, for the one-two punch of “Montana” and “July.” The squeakiness in his voice is gone by now, and Powers is quite aware that building up a song is best done slowly and steadily. When it finally bursts open, it validates the hunch: The Year of Hibernation is an intimate album meant to be heard at huge volumes.