The house music played in the Fonda Theater on Thursday night leading up to the arrival of Nicolas Jaar was a mix of Spanish language Latin American music. Given that he spent time as a child in Chile, perhaps this makes sense.
Album artwork and some tracks on Jaar’s current release Sirens include lyrics in Spanish. Other words are in English. But at the Fonda, Jaar, who stood alone on stage throughout his set, created a futuristic language of his own.
The abstract two-hour performance unfolded beautifully along a long, exploratory arc. Lines that define traditional live music shows were abandoned. Individual songs were barely identifiable, as one piece dissolved in to the next without fanfare. These were movements and moments of a soulful electronica, quilted together. There were the sounds of slot machine payoffs, deranged harpsichords, R2D2, angelic digitalism, industrial fire alarms, broken glass, high-pitched dog whistles, dental drills and complimentary hissing gas. There were flirtations with math rock, urgent Spy Hunter themes (“Three Sides of Nazareth”), and tasteful EDM-like drops that eventually led to the audience getting down.
Visually, it was a slow reveal. For the first third of the night, Jaar was backlit, with the entire room flooded by fog machines. The result was an obscured headliner, and a stage façade that appeared to float in a cloud, its borders non-existent. Each lighting element entered like a new player in a stage production.
At one point, an effect switched on to create the cinematic sense of hurtling through the galaxy at light speed, stars passing by in the periphery like lasers. Later, large rectangular white-hot strobe lights on the floor flickered like a faulty fixture in a truck stop bathroom. A visual apex came when sharp beams cut through the air to create horizon-like divisions, each rotating on its axis. Which way was up? It didn’t matter.
As the set progressed, the wintry black, white and grey lighting became enlivened with the greens and yellows of spring. The intensity of sound spiked, as well. Balcony seats vibrated straight up through sternum, as if the entire room sat atop a snare drum. Towards the latter part of the performance, swaths of rock melded in to glimpses of jazz when Jaar finally manned a sax that, to that point, had conspicuously rested on the stage.
There were lyrics, some executed live, others sampled. Included were identifiable fragments from “Space Is Only Noise If You Can See,” and Sirens songs “Killing Time,” and, notably, “The Governor” in which Jaar put down words of warning: “Your whole ride is set on automatic dial.”
In many ways, this edict could be interpreted as a unifying theme of the night. Jaar’s performance was modern high art. His creativity, unusual and strange, often begged for some degree of deciphering via self-reflection.
Yet there was a journey in this disorientation. It commanded discomfort, such that it became incumbent upon the listener to seek their own peace, resolution, or meaning in the music. Your automatic dial had been turned off by Nicolas Jaar.
Glass Breaks + Signal processing noise
Arpeggio then C drone
Transition to Audrey then Audrey drops
Colomb Alternate reverse mix
Why didn’t you save me intro then drops
No one is looking at you
Dubliners water sound then Lorraine sings
Mirros + Sirens intro then Nico loops keyboard
Go up to 107bpm – Club Kapital (acid bass line)
Synth Line + techno percussionist + prophet
Arpeggios? Followed by desintegration
Beasts of the earth in E minor (60)
Swim in E then A at (120)
Three sides Nazareth in A (140)
Fight in D (143)
Don’t break my love in D (160)
(got one last track)
Governor in C (160)
Space is only Noise
Specters of the future
Time for us