Claire Evans is onstage at the Crystal Ballroom, clutching her signature all-white mic and contortedly dancing her way through a diametric dyad of songs off Shangri-La, the latest record from her and Jona Bechtolt's band YACHT.
On “Dystopia (The Earth Is On Fire),” Evans (half-joking that the song is about her and Bechtolt's adopted home, Los Angeles) takes a dark view of humankind's direction—particularly our disconnectedness: “We are all hungry, we are all tired / Our tongues, they are all on fire / The walls that we build are higher / Higher, higher, higher, higher.” But on “Utopia” (“This one's about Portland,” Evans tells the crowd), she underlines a brighter theme that runs through the new album: “The future works upon us / As we all work upon it / Utopia, utopia, utopia, utopia!”
Whether struggling with mortality on its last album, See Mystery Lights, or contending with utopia on Shangri-La, YACHT has long been a band that engages with ideas as it soundtracks ass-shaking. Hell, YACHT bills itself as not just a band, but a “belief system.” Evans' addition to the former Bechtolt solo project in 2008 was clearly a big part of the group's elevation to a concept act; the writer and artist has been thinking publicly about science and technology since way pre-YACHT.
To the “design fiction presentation” she gave at PICA's downtown offices just hours before YACHT's Crystal Ballroom show Sept. 13, titled Restore From Backup, Evans brought the inquisitiveness and playfulness (not to mention the design ability) that has marked her work both with Bechtolt and solo.
The “fiction” part of the presentation's description refers to a pitch for a set of imagined products—“emotional bandwidth solutions”—that would support us in efficiently utilizing our emotional capacity as the internet alters the nature of our relationships. Even though this pitch was meant to be the core of Restore From Backup, it seemed, truth be told, like the least thoroughly thought-through section of it. By the time Evans started pitching, she had already given the audience more nutritive food for thought about the web, our IRL personal webs and the threads that connect the two.
Chew on this, for example: Evans points out that although the popular conception of the internet is as something insubstantial (think of “the cloud”), the web is, in reality, quite substantial, a physical network of servers and fiberoptic cables dotting the planet and crossing the ocean floor. Our relationships' digital component—emails, wall posts, likes—also, by extension, have form; we delude ourselves that we can delete or hide it, but Evans reminds us that if, say, Facebook were subpoenaed, there, in a hefty legal document, the complete history would be.
In another interesting segment of her presentation, Evans observes that while memory used to be, by definition, subjective and undependable, computers are rendering it objective and unforgiving. After all, computers don't have “memories;” they have a singular “memory.” No longer can we define and redefine our relationships past, if they had a digital component; these days, there's a record to reconcile with.
Presented in visually engaging form, Restore From Backup may not always have been fully baked, but Evans' presentation was eloquently delivered, frequently funny and consistently thought-provoking.