Leading off way past midnight, Desire’s first song was listless and uninspired. Perhaps it was a setup, because they then smacked us with purpose, live drums, and a hard beat. “Mirror Mirror” instantly set the correct tone for the night, even though Megan Louise’s vocals meandered often—but that’s kind of their melancholic point. Girded by producer Johnny Jewel’s precise analog beats, the Montreal group’s 80s derived electro was also the newest addition to the Italians Do It Better familia, the evening’s host.
Desire established the template for the night: manic producer Johnny Jewel laying down hand-made, dance ready beats (give or take an added instrumentalist) for a sequined female vocalist to wistfully sing over. Of course it’s formulaic, like any musician’s trademark, but Jewel’s consistency and effortlessness in subtly marrying tempo to feeling enable his accomplices to wander around the beat in concert. In this arena, hemiolas occur naturally, creating new diversions within the beat.
Distinguishing Chromatics’ sound are underlying scratched guitar chords. Infused with strings, they probably veered closest to pure Italo disco. Vocals by Ruth Radelet were haunting, even wan at times, though “I Want Your Love” and “In the City” back to back was phenomenal.
Headlining was Portland’s Glass Candy. Jewel, again, mastered the switchboards but with Ida No singing and leading the party assault this time. As dozens of oversized balloons bounced around the hall the normally static “Stars & Houses” became dynamic and visceral. Jewel’s synth lines also alluded to “Korobeiniki”, a nice Tetris shout out? Their best track was, and is, “Geto Boys”, emphasizing the duo’s role as recording artists but partying performers.
Friday night was particularly special as it was the first NYC performance for both Chromatics and Desire and the first time all three groups shared a stage. (Kind of ridiculous considering Jewel is behind all of them.) It was also a birthday celebration for Jewel’s Italians Do It Better co-founder, Mike Simonetti.
As a sidenote, the DJ between sets was amazing, at one point prompting wild make out sessions with a strangely funky and hunky Esteban-sounding mix and other shameless genre twisting.