Show Recap: Toro Y Moi at First Unitarian Church
Things were easier back when Toro Y Moi only had one album under its belt. A heavy use of samples allowed Chaz Bundick to record the project’s 2010 full-length debut, Causers Of This, within the comfort of his home studio. And the album’s timely release, which found it at the forefront of the chillwave genre that swept indie-rock last year, certainly didn’t hurt its chances with fans of clean-cut, rhythmic synth-pop. But Bundick has said in interviews that he always tries to look to the future when writing music, and that the ’80s were no more an influence than any other decade. So, if Causers couldn’t shake the perception that it was an ode to the past, the challenge became to avoid repeating that mistake with the follow-up—without alienating the fans his unexpected success had earned him.
In February, Bundick released a starkly different second album, Underneath The Pine. He dropped the cotton-candy dance music for more a more laboring psychedelia and funk. Frustrated with the live show for Causers—which sometimes consisted solely of Bundick on keyboards (with his laptop playing the beats)—he recorded the album almost entirely with live instruments. When many people, including some of the fans outside of First Unitarian Church on Tuesday night, talk about Toro Y Moi’s new material, they use words like “respectable” and “complex.” But it’s hard to ignore the feeling that the pop bangers off of Causers are what they’re still looking for.
Last night, Bundick and his backing band took the stage illuminated in shades of red, blue, and yellow by their swirling light show. They opened with “New Beat” (off Underneath The Pine) which balances out its extended psychedelic space jams with a catchy wah-wah synth line. Standing behind his mic and keyboard (and wasting no time with between-song banter), Bundick immediately went into “Go With Him”—a track featuring walls upon walls of trippy noise, and no hint of musical compromise. (It didn’t take the dancing crowd long to lose the minimal beat and resign itself to slight head bobbing.) The next two songs were off Causers, including a shortened version of the hit “Talamak”; for the live version, Bundick let the drummer, not a drum machine, carry the rhythm.
The meat of the show was redemption for the karaoke-like Causers tour: droning electric guitar and synth (played through pedals and heavy effect loops), the swirling light show, long vacancies of singing. Bundick has clearly embraced growing up, even if his crowd is hesitant to come along. The final three songs showcased the differences between the two albums. The crowd danced hardest during Causers‘ “Low Shoulder,” which he played with the help of a drum machine. The band’s six-minute version of Pine’s “Elise,” meanwhile, was an exciting glimpse of Bundick’s musical future. It started with dissonant jumbles of guitar and melody; it was bold and enjoyable, coming together in a pounding, melodic chorus. After a rhythmic call for an encore, Bundick came back for one more: “Blessa,” the opening track off of Causers. An old favorite, it was a gift to the audience. But as he sang, “I found a job, I’m doing fine, doing fine. Not what I want, but still I try, still I try,” it became clear that Toro Y Moi has already moved on. —Dave Simpson