On Saturday February 24th, Rostam Batmanglij, better known as just “Rostam,” closed his first North American tour at the El Rey Theatre. Since the end of January, he had been performing across the country in support of his solo debut, Half-Light, which was released in September 2017. A drummer and string quartet accompanied him on stage for the show, illuminated by colorful, evolving projections from behind.
“What up L.A.,” Rostam asked after opening with “Don’t Let It Get To You (Reprise),” the final song on Half-Light, though at this moment sounding like a welcoming whisper into his world. The stage was often dimly lit, save for the backdrop, and Rostam usually clutched the microphone on the stand, though with feeling, not nervousness. He next played “Sumer,” which he noted as the first track on the album. During “Never Going to Catch Me,” Rostam was lit by a red spotlight, allowing the crowd to see his seemingly signature dance: some head bobbing and snaking of the neck.
“This is the 20th show of a 28-day tour,” Rostam said, explaining how the last show felt like a homecoming show. “Are there any Persians in the audience,” he wondered, noting he asked that at every show, but the cheers at the EL Rey proved to be the best reaction. “This song is for you.” The performance of “Wood” began completely dark, besides the screen, until Rostam began to sing. From behind, white paisley-like patterns of white from a single drop shapeshifted and expanded. “Wood” shone on the screen in blue font, until giving way to “Rostam” in Persian (like the album cover).
After “Bike Dream” and “Young Lion,” the only Vampire Weekend song of the set, Rostam sang “EOS.” “For this next song, I really want to get the lights down low… get a vibe going,” he instructed. In such darkness, it was easy to see the handful of phones still recording, despite being told at the door that photography and videography were not allowed (enjoy each other!). Still, the projection of the night sky was mesmerizing, revolving so quickly that the circular stars looked more like shooting stars as the drumming escalated, eventually flashing out into white. “Let’s keep the theater vibe going,” Rostam said for “It’s Not My Fault,” a Discover song characterized by a very 2009 voice synthesizer.
“I’m kind of passionate about some shit,” Rostam said following an intense finish to “When.” In August, he told Rolling Stone that political music “with a capital ‘P’ kinda sucks,” but believes all music to be inherently political. As if proving his point, an American flag changing colors projected behind, his name in Persian too once again on the screen, this time replacing the traditional placement of 50 stars: “They don’t wanna hear it/ And we just keep living in America.” He also dedicated the song to Emma Gonzalez, one of the Parkland shooting student survivors activating for gun reform. “Alright. Now we’re gonna play some pretty songs for the rest of the night, I promise,” he half-chuckled, and then sang “Half Light” and “Gwan.”
“Oh what’s up L.A.? The show’s not over yet… Not only do we have more music,” but here’s a song you’ve never heard before,” Rostam said, returning to the stage for the encore. The strummy song played as a heavenly sky changed over the course of a day, from dawn to dusk and finally fading to black. It was a peaceful moment, only Rostam’s silhouette visible, before he covered Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon.” He bookended the set with “Don’t Let It Get to You.” “Thank you so much L.A.” It was good to be home.
- Don’t Let It Get to You (reprise)
- Never Going to Catch Me
- Bike Dream
- Young Lion (Vampire Weekend cover)
- It’s Not My Fault (Discovery cover)
- Half Light
- In a River
- Pink Moon (Nick Drake cover)
- Don’t Let It Get to You