“Are you serious? That’s it?” my friend complained loudly, as the last treble note faded away. Clocking in at one hour, the concert felt like a dream that had ended far too soon. It was one of those evenings during which you keep turning to your friend and asking “is this really happening?” The smoky, stuffy, baby blue backdrop of San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium sedated the other senses, while Washed Out’s chill-out sound had you pinching yourself to make sure you were awake. If you don’t want to spend thirty dollars, go ahead and take a nap, but if you want to dream like you never have before, attend a Washed Out concert.
The Georgia-based indie-chill collective came out thirty-five minutes late to the slow-starting, progressive “New Theory.” Despite having a beat like a lullaby, it brought the sold-out theatre’s hands together and vocal chords aquiver. In a matter of seconds, the sedative in the song kicked in and the masses fell into a euphoric swaying that lasted most of that dreamy hour. Through the undulating forest, I took note of the band’s ranks. Up front, on stage right, was a male bassist who looked lovingly down at his strings the entire time. Behind him was a calm male drummer, keeping every song on tempo with simple beats and never lifting his sticks more than an inch above the membrane. To my right was a male rhythm guitarist and backup singer, who added a ghostly quality to every lyric. Behind him was a woman on a synthesizer, who swayed and bobbed and generally seemed to be doing nothing, as synthesizer-players often appear. Front and center was 31-year-old Ernest Greene on vocals and synth, swaying and smiling and picking up the occasional chat with the audience in his mellow, boyish voice. Across the board, the band looked like their samsara was in their small-scale indie fame, and the audience couldn’t get enough.
Their inspirational sound and the band’s name itself reflect their rise from humble roots. Greene, founder and songwriter, earned his Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Georgia ten years ago and moved back in with his mom while struggling to find work as a librarian (he ‘washed up’ there, so to speak). From his bedroom studio he wrote and produced his way to Myspace fame, and released his first two EP’s in August and September 2009. His popularity took off when his song “Feel it All Around” was featured in the title sequence of Portlandia, released in January 2011. He was signed in April 2011 and has since released 3 full-length albums: “Life of Leisure,” “Within and Without,” and “Paracosm.”
The concert was mostly a showcase of “Paracosm,” released this past August. A paracosm is defined as a prolonged fantasy world with definite geography, language, history, like Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Rowling’s Britain. Greene’s world is one where nothing is clear – the words coming out of his mouth were just as hazy as the stage – but in which the uncertainty offers a departure from the organized nature of life elsewhere. All his songs operate within the same dreamy bounds, but he still knows how to write a single, and puts a new twist in every song.
Though his most popular after the Portlandia title sequence and his opener is the bubbly “Amor Fati,” the best song of the night was “All I Know,” a five-and-a-half minute odyssey with a sound like U2 meets Toro y Moi that makes you want to sit on your roof and watch the sunrise. In a band with two synthesizers, you probably know exactly what this kind of music this is, but before you scoff it off I recommend you listen to at least three of the aforementioned songs in a car. You’ll see what I mean.
We drove home that night in a fugue state, sunroof open, lifting our starry heads into the misty morn. Washed out was on the car radio – its native environment – and everyone within a city block radius was listening. Everyone in the car was silent, trying to get back to that time when, for what seemed like a second, we knew what he was talking about.