It was raining -- not a heavy downpour but more of a light drizzle that seemed to catch on all exposed parts of your body. It wasn't unpleasant necessarily, but you didn't want to have to stand in it for very long. Always unfashionably early, our arrival (my brother and I) at The Signal in Chattanooga, TN was marked by a hesitation as to whether we should go in and kill the next hour and a half or go get some hot chocolate. And while the hot chocolate was especially tempting, we wound up going inside and finding an empty bar-style table out on the open floor of the concert hall. Washed Out would be playing later, and we didn't want to miss a note.
From the moment I was first introduced to Washed Out's wonderfully bass-y, synth-soaked chillwave aesthetic, I was hooked. It wasn't for everyone (some people decried its overly vibe-y focus and blurred construction), and the eventual backlash just about killed any momentum the small sub-genre had going. But some artists would rise above the stigmas attached to the sound and find new ways of expressing themselves and their influences through these electronic, imminently danceable tunes.
Currently calling Athens, GA home, Ernest Greene (the primary architect behind Washed Out) had, over the course of his last few records, found an arresting perspective that merged soft focus/dancefloor synths and soaring melodies without sacrificing the immediacy of his rhythmic vision. The music was often loud, filled with rumbling rhythms and Greene's submerged vocals. It was going to be a trial by fire for The Signal to see how well the venue could handle these spectrum-sliding sounds.
Eventually, the lights dimmed and we made our way to the front of the stage, zigzagging through the crowd of people. The opening band was Biyo, out of Nashville, and they were completely unfamiliar to me. Taking a large influence from bands like Autre Ne Veut and How to Dress Well, they combined an obvious love for classic R&B with the forceful energy of indie rock and the shifting landscapes of electronic music. In hindsight, they were the perfect opening band for Washed Out.
Their short but mesmerizing set was highlighted by the echoing falsetto of singer Grayson Proctor and the band's intricate and engaging interactions. Whether notes were being stretched out to their breaking points or things were slowed down a bit to focus on the escalating grooves, they were constantly moving, never allowing the music to rest before suddenly taking off in another direction. There were moments of calm beauty but also of frenetic motion, a whirlwind amalgam of familiar sounds broken down and rebuilt piece by piece.
Biyo ended their set and walked offstage to cheers, whistles and calls for more music. Their equipment was quickly removed, leaving some mics, drums, guitars and various electronic devices littered across the stage. You could feel an excitement making its way through the crowd, leaving charged particles on the shoulders of everyone in attendance. Suddenly, everything went momentarily quiet, before the crowd erupted in noise, and Washed Out took the stage.
Backed by a large projection screen, the trio (led by Greene) quickly dug in and filled the room with a squiggly and cacophonous racket, full of hummable melodies and aqueous synths. Everyone began moving in time with the music before losing any sense of their surroundings and giving themselves over to the movement embedded in these sounds. Pulling from across their discography -- with attention paid to their most recent record, 2017's "Mister Mellow" -- they set out to provide a summary of why we loved the band in the first place. And believe me, there was no shortage of affection being thrown toward the stage.
Throughout the evening, they shifted between shorter musical expulsions and longer jams which actually held some of the best moments of the concert. Alternating between electronic and analog drums, they created a throbbing, percussive environment where melodies bled out into the night and lyrics were often lost in a wash of oceanic synths and rising harmonies. Occasionally, they would back down from the noise and find a slower set of liquid grooves that allowed them to approach their influences from a completely different angle. It was still buoyed by extravagant synths and beats, but the execution was much more nuanced.
And while there's always the possibility for this kind of music to feel undifferentiated, the band managed to keep things interesting and complex despite the often chest-rattling rhythms. There was ample volume but also detail and a welcome musical specificity. The synths weren't bland and without personality -- they were stuffed full of quirky arrangements and memorable movements. There was never a moment when Greene and his band veered off course into some meandering mass of half-formed ideas. They were precise but mercurial, knowing exactly where they wanted to go but changing up the route along the way.
The band played a 2-song encore to a sea of adoration and seemed genuinely thankful for the response. They waved and left the stage. The house lights came on, and music began creeping through the stage PA. It was over, and people were sweaty, exhausted and satisfied from an evening of synth opulence. We all trudged out into the rainy night, hesitant to leave the music behind and acknowledge the reality of the outside world. But the music was still there, circling in our heads for the drive home. And nothing could take that from us.