English synthers Bastille played a 19-song set on Thursday in Portland bringing a heavy dose of the 1980s to an overjoyed crowd full of young teens along with a parent or two, older teens and a smattering of Reagan-era veterans.
With echoes of Depeche Mode, Bastille used heavy synthesizers, little guitar and lots of bass squeezing every drop out of their hit album Bad Blood. Released last year, the multiplatinum record is the band’s only full length release which the band has toured since it dropped. The last time Bastille played in Portland? The couple-hundred people sized Doug Fir Lounge.
On Thursday, the crowd surged to the several-thousand sized Theater of the Clouds, an amphitheater styled set-up inside the arena-setting of the Moda Center. Bastille indeed proved ready for the bigger houses with comfortable presence and fantastic sound accompanied by a well-produced light and stage show.
The quartet walked on stage as the large triangle-shaped video screen broadcast something akin to a production from 30 years ago announcing the “feature presentation.” They opened their set with “Things We Lost in the Fire” followed by “Weight of Living, Pt. II” then “Laura Palmer” and the synth heavy “Laughter Lines” featuring that great haunting keyboard opening and wonderful melody throughout. The title track to their debut album, one of several singles still making the rounds on local radio, brought a thumping bass guitar rhythm by Will Farquarson.
To say bass dominated the evening would be an understatement. Along with Dan Smith’s deep vocals, the bass guitar, the heavy use of bass drums and the synthesizers, bass kicked treble to the curb for much of the evening and the band does it well. In fact, Farquarson didn’t bring out an electric guitar until “Blame” a drum punchy tune and dead-ringer for a Black Keys song appearing on the band’s next album.
Smith said the band’s forthcoming record should be different than Bad Blood as he expects to showcase guitars more. Considering another new song played, a very edgy “The Driver,” one of the best of the evening, brought the electric guitar center stage it sounds as if he’s going to make good on that promise. Fans longing for a new album can expect a mini EP to drop in December though now word on whether that’s the new album or just a snack
“Overjoyed” brought all four band members to the front with Smith playing a moody piano, drummer Chris Wood using a single electronic drum machine, and keyboardist Kyle Simmons and Farquarson playing together on the synths. “Poet” which starts like the theme song to a bad Matthew Perry sitcom followed, and gets better than the silly beginning, and the Disney-esque “These Streets” continued the pop fun.
The sample-heavy “The Silence” pushed the tempo up before “Oblivion” a song which Smith said is probably the band’s most depressing. Granted they have one album to work with and a limited number of songs, it makes sense that a few covers made the set list. Their remake of TLC’s “No Scrubs” which apparently can be found on a bootleg (if you can find it) made prior to Bad Blood’s release just didn’t work. It’s not the same genre or even close to the style of music Bastille plays.
Thankfully, they returned with the drum-heavy “Icarus” choreographed well with background lights. “The Draw” Bastille’s four minute dabble into grunge rock darkened the mood and bested the album version bringing a stinging guitar chord and sounded more like something off the promised new album . The catchy “Flaws” brought Smith into the crowd singing his way through the masses standing on the floor section before jumping back on stage and closing out the set. The encore included “Get Home” featuring Smith’s polished tenor, their take on Corona’s “The Rhythm of the Night” titled “Of the Night” and of course their signature, “Pompeii” which they killed and brought opening act Ella Eyre to join helping primarily to beat on all the drums showcased on stage.
You don’t get soaring guitar solos with Bastille or insane drum fills. A traditional rock band they are not as their music harkens back three decades ago ushering in perhaps a second new wave of music. There’s a lot of sampling to Bastille’s live show and the keyboards along with Smith’s low vocal register rule the night. It’s Smith’s band but Simmons adds a complexity and architect to the music with his keyboard depth. He’s amazing to watch – sometimes plays two different keyboards at the same time and occasionally pounding a bass drum to his left as his right hand fingers the ivories.
However, Smith’s vocals help differentiate Bastille from so many of the rush-to-stardom pop bands playing on radio today. He sounds classically trained, and the British accent along with his lower octave gives a smooth, pure sound. He’s graceful at times and his tenor really shines on “Oblivion” and “Overjoyed.” He’s self-deprecating, perhaps a bit insecure, as he commented several times prior to starting a song “I hope you like it” and made fun of his dance moves which he described as horrific. Not horrific, but using the same move for nearly every song gets repetitive and not just for him.
The heavy use of bass and keyboards works well but to prevent from simply repeating Bad Blood on their sophomore album, Bastille needs to take a different direction. If the new songs showcased deliver as promised then it shouldn’t be a stretch to see Bastille book the entire arena next tour around.
Bastille Portland (Moda Center) Setlist:
- Things We Lost in the Fire
- Weight of Living, Pt. II
- Laura Palmer
- Laughter Lines
- Bad Blood
- These Streets
- The Driver
- The Silence
- No Scrubs
- The Draw
- Get Home
- Of the Night