(Photos by Brian Lee
) Before last Thursday, I'd only ever seen Austin electro-pop duo Ghostland Observatory in the light of day (at last year's Sasquatch! fest). So, when the guy at the door said, "Don't look into the lasers," when I arrived at the Crystal for the band's recent Portland show, I had no idea what he was talking about—or what I was in for. For anyone who's seen recent Jack Black/Mos Def flick Be Kind, Rewind
, you'll have some idea what I mean when I say the experience "paranized" my brain. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Black's character's made-up vocabulary, let me say this: Seeing Ghostland Observatory—live, indoors and in full light-show grandeur—is pretty mind-blowing.
The band didn't begin playing until the stage was cloaked in smoke. Then, slowly and with perfect rock-star drama, the silhouette of vocalist/guitarist Aaron Behren began to appear through the haze. His braided pigtails, '70s leisure-ware and sunglasses are pretty unmistakable, and his dance moves are equally singular. And just as the music—and, therefore, his (and everyone else's) dancing—began, the aforementioned lasers took a hold of the room. Spraying in lines and webs through the Crystal Ballroom and leaving bright dots of color along the ceiling, it was a totally mesmerizing sight—not to mention the perfect accoutrement to Ghostland's funk-laden, slightly gothy and totally nocturnal dance-pop rave-ups.
For the first, say, third of the set, Behren proceeded to slither around the stage, popping and locking with extra-smoothness while crooning—in his own high, soulful, sexed-up-à la Prince way—along to the outfit's electro jams. In fact, he alternated between such dance-inciting and grabbing his guitar and pairing up with keyboardist/producer/guy-in-the-cape Thomas Turner for more amped-up garage-punk tunes. It was during this earlier part of the set that Ghostland busted out both "Sad Sad City" and the slinky, bass-heavy "Stranger Love" (both off 2006's Paparazzi Lightning
), that latter of which has one of the catchiest repetitive guitar lines ever.
Midway through the set, the band got a little trippier, dragging its soundscapes into extended jams and allowing everyone to catch their breath, grab another beer, etc. I, for one, first noticed that I had been dancing with toilet paper or a napkin stuck to my left sneaker; then I simply spaced out and marveled at the wonder that was Ghostland's lasers zipping back and forth through the Crystal Ballroom's giant chandelier, piercing it with daggers of neon light.
It was probably the raddest light show I've seen, maybe ever. And the duo brought it totally home—and snapped us out of our respective dazes—with upbeat and welcome new numbers from recent release, Robotique Majestique
. "Dancing On My Grave," in particular, got the whole room moving again—so much, in fact, that the bouncy floor was in action all the way in the back of the over-21 side.
Perhaps the best way to really explain what this show felt like is with a simple image.
It felt kind of like this:
Yes, that's a battle scene from Phantasy Star II. Imagine the two locusts as Behren and Turner (and the two protagonists in the foreground as, say, you and your date), and you've got the right idea. Hell, even the awesomely bumpin' Phantasy Star soundtrack is apt. Or, you could take a gander at some actual shots from the show, courtesy of real photog Brian Lee. And here they are!
Again, photos by Brian Lee (except Phantasy Star II image, courtesy of a Google image search)