I know how these concerts start. A hurried but still slow moving set up, musicians scampering between onstage and offstage, unsure of where to wait before they begin, and murmurs of “I’ve heard they’re actually really good” among the audience. I’d seen this countless times watching high school bands perform at venues hours away, as openers to the more famed locals, and at our very own auditorium.
But the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco is nothing like my high school’s auditorium (other than a shared, horribly misinformed color palette of green and gold), so why, as I stood on the packed dance floor of Milky Chance’s April 15 performance, could I not help but think of that New Jersey auditorium with its poor acoustics and parade of eager bands? Even before I learned that Milky Chance started making music together in eleventh grade, the musical duo made their uncomplicated passion that only comes from the young guys who make music in your neighbor’s basement palpable to a crowd of eager fans through their nervous laughs, private jokes to each other, and detachment from the crowd as they got into the zone of their music.
But don’t mistake garageband charm for unprofessionality. The duo behind the major hit “Stolen Dance” retained a raw and unrefined sound and presentation in spite of their skyrocketing fame. This sound might be inevitable because of the stylistic clashes that occur in their music, a mix of folk (loud guitars, harmonicas) and electronic beats–sometimes reggae, sometimes funk, sometimes pure house. During the concert, Clemens Rehbein (vocals and instrumentals) would shred some jarring guitar notes as Philipp Dausch (production and DJ) set up for the next song. Or Dausch interrupted melodic solos with bordering on painful ambient noise. But the contrast worked, especially when interspersed with the easy listening of most of their music.
In concert, their music stretches from easy to enveloping. Rehbein’s coarse voice layered with melodic ooh’s, steady synth beats, and the often dark repetition of instrumentals getting faster and faster created a cloud over the audience as warm as the two swipes over Snapchat filter, where smiles were slight but constant and heads couldn’t resist bopping in rhythm. 1 2 1 2 1 2. I could have bounced my head from the first note of the concert till the very end, entranced in the rhythm, but the addition of woodblock and faster drum samples in songs like “Fairytale”, “Flashed Junk Mind,” and “Down By The River” brought me out of my reverie into a delighted dance.
I was not the only concertgoer getting lost in the music as one song blended into the next. The audience collectively glowed in their dancing and bopping, basking in the hip, chill vibes that radiated from Rehbein and Dausch’s humble smiles, catchy beats, and messy hair. They still seemed like two young guys who were really good friends, really talented, thought maybe they should make music together, and were surprised how they ended up on this stage. They were reserved and sweet, but difficult to understand (perhaps not speaking any more articulately than they did in high school). One comment that did stick was Dausch’s preface to his electronic solo: “So guys. I wrote this song about another planet. A magical planet where there are no cell phones” (hint hint nudge nudge, man in the center of the floor waving around a selfie stick).
But I was also guilty of taking photos, recording videos, and strategically planning an ideal Instagram shot. I decided to humor Dausch’s shy and corny request and let myself join him on this magical, cell-phone less planet. Without the technological distraction, I could appreciate that whoever designed the staging and lighting for this concert was truly a genius. Three textured circles made up the backdrop and complimented the carved wooden poles that scattered the stage. The lights changed from starbursts that sent rays over the entire audience to neon green auras to ethereal pink and blue highlights that switched back and forth to its inverse during the final encore song (this was not nearly as similar to the final scene of Sleeping Beauty as it sounds). All of this came from the efforts of two guys whose viral single (none other than “Stolen Dance”) was recorded in Rehbein’s childhood home with a guitar, microphone, MacBook, and LogicPro software. That’s it.
And other than the beautiful set and lighting (and a few more speakers), it doesn’t seem like much more was added to this tour. Sure, there was a badass harmonica player who brought the idea of folk to a whole new level. Yes, there was a crowd of screaming fans who tried to be as cool as Milky Chance is but couldn’t help their excitement getting in the way. But the duo’s personalities and music still emitted the rare and genuine atmosphere of incredibly talented, hardworking self-made artists who were excited to be playing a gig.
I knew how these concerts ended–I’d seen it dozens of times at my high school, at local battles of the bands, and at the seedy bars on the boardwalk on the Jersey shore. When the gig ended, these young, grateful musicians would pack up their own equipment, call their hometown friends to let them know how it went, and chat with the handful of fans at their merch table while drinking a beer. Even without seeing it, I knew I was experiencing the same kind of performance and musicianship at a place and from people I never would have expected.