Electronic artist Lo-Fang just finished a run opening for Lorde and has popped up on the national radar with a Q&A in The New York Times and a performance on The Late Show with David Letterman, making his intimate show Tuesday night at Barboza all the more fascinating.
Lo-Fang is the stage name of Matthew Hemerlein, who at age 30 is seeing his career come into focus. His debut album, “Blue Film,” released last month, is an eclectic mix of familiar, chilled-out electronic sounds that are augmented nicely by various string instruments and Hemerlein’s rich falsetto.
Those instruments, specifically the violin and cello, took center stage Tuesday as Hemerlein used them to create earworm loops, allowing his two-piece backing band to create rhythms that got the impressively large crowd moving on the dance floor. Mono blared upstairs at Neumos, making it a busy night at 10th and Pike.
Hemerlein used his tranquil album opener “Look Away” to start the show and someone unfamiliar with his music might have assumed that Lo-Fang hews more toward sounds that are nearly club-ready, albeit subdued. Hemerlein is too subversive for that, and on his next song, “Boris,” he used the cello to elicit thoughts of seductive danger as he sang, “You owe me your lips/I’m going to give tips/I heard your boyfriend’s out of town.” Hemerlein traveled all over the world writing his album over the past few years, stopping in places like Japan, Bali and London, and you could definitely hear the influence of Eastern sounds.
“Light Year” exposed Hemerlein’s soulful voice, which sounded great against the sparse beat. Another song, “You’re The One I Want,” was another slow, seductive jam — this time of the “rolling thunder” variety. Sex was never far away from Lo-Fang’s ruminations.; After all, “Blue Film,” is euphemism for pornography.
But sex didn’t figure into Lo-Fang’s best song of the night, “#88,” about a doomed relationship. In turns angry and tender, Hemerlein took the song through impressive permutations that proved he has an ear for pop music.
One does fear Hemerlein might be a little too quirky for his own good, as some of his songs could stand to use a little tightening up. Not so on “When We’re Fire,” which used a kinetic ’80s beat to let the crowd burn it all down on the dance floor one last time. It was probably Lo-Fang’s least interesting — and most fun — cut of the night.
Erik Walters of Silver Torches opened with a solo set that was aided by some backing tracks that wouldn’t quite cooperate. A few songs in, Walters did the smart thing and played without the tracks. He said it was only an experiment to play a show with tracks, but like most everything Tuesday, it sounded good anyway.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails