Live Concert Review: Neon Indian at SummerStage, East River Park 8/9/16
Words: William Ruben Helms
Photos: Kellie Zhao
With his solo recording project, Neon Indian, Mexican-born, Denton, TX-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, electronic music artist and producer Alan Palomo has received both national and international attention with the release of four full-length efforts and an EP — Psychic Chasms, Era Extraña, the Errata Anex EP and 2015’s Vega Intl. Night School. Interestingly Night School was conceived during a period of aesthetic reinvention that inspired a decided change in songwriting approach and sonic direction, as Night School managed to incorporate the electronic dance music-leaning sound of his previous recording project VEGA along with arguably some of the most elaborate and earnest songwriting of his recorded output to date, all while being written and recorded in a variety of locations including a cruise ship cabin, DFA’s Plantain Studios in NYC, Pure X’s Austin, TX-based practice space, Ben Allen’s Atlanta, GA-based studio — before being mixed by renowned electronic music artist and producer Alex Epton (formerly known as XXXchange). The end result is a slickly produced synth pop sound that clearly sounds indebted to Prince, Thriller, Bad and Dangerous-era Michael Jackson and the synth funk/synth R&B sounds of the late 70s and early 80s – in particular think of The Whispers “And The Beat Goes On,” “It’s A Love Thing,” and “Rock Steady,” Heatwave’s “Boogie Nights” and “The Groove Line,” Evelyn “Champagne” King’s “Love Come Down,” Cherelle’s “Saturday Love” and an even lengthier list of others. Certainly, as a child of the 80s, it’s a warmly familiar sound – and in some way hearing it done by contemporary artists in front of much younger crowds, who may not even know the stuff that influenced it kind of makes you feel incredibly old. But such is the life of a music journalist after all.
Palomo and his live touring band, which features Drew Erickson, Jason Faries, Jorge Palomo and Max Townsley have been touring to support Vega Intl Night School and it included a stop at SummerStage’s East River Park last month on a glorious mid-Summer night in New York. Listening to the material off Night School live, I was struck by a few immediately observations:
- Palomo’s most recent effort is so deeply indebted to early 80s Prince – and that it makes his cover of “Pop Life” incredibly fitting. Also, let that be a reminder of the fact that Prince wrote some of the best pop songs of the 80s.
- Palomo can write a infectiously catchy hook. The first few times I heard “Annie,” the hook was buried into my brain for several days. Literally everywhere I had gone, I had managed to hum or sing (to myself) the song’s hook.
- Palomo and company are an incredibly tight, road-tested unit; in fact, they’re so tight that their live sound was extremely faithful to the recorded sound. Also, it was a reminder of how slickly polished and dance-floor friendly Night School’s standout material is – and as I joked on Facebook, “Neon Indian has all of these young white girls out here in East River Park trying to dance.”
Personal highlights included the aforementioned “Annie” and night closing “Pop Life,” as well as the propulsive, house music meets New Wave track “The Glitzy Hive” and “Slumlord;” however I have to admit that in a live context, the material revealed what seemed to be a glaring weakness in my mind – about four or five songs into their East River Park set, the songs began to blend into one; nor did it help that the material at points managed to feel as though it hit the same emotional timbre. But it’s done with such an earnest sincerity and with such incredibly catchy hooks that the material’s weakness does manage to fade away enough — especially if you’re shaking your ass to his dance-floor grooves.
Kellie Zhao studies architecture history at Columbia University and visual arts at the Art Students League of New York. She has an interest in most art forms, including drawing, sculpture, design and photography, and is currently a Digital Media and Design Intern at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. On campus, she is a board member of the Artist Society, and illustrates for the Blue and White magazine.
Follow her on Instagram: @kellie.z