Little Dragon rocks and sways the Orange Peel

Photo by Rich Orris
Photo by Rich Orris

The crowd at the Little Dragon concert at the Orange Peel on Wednesday night came to dance, and the band delivered. Hot off a massive Bonnaroo concert stage just a few days before, the Swedish band was perfectly in its element in a packed and sweaty room. Lead singer Yukimi Nagano seemed taken with the audience almost immediately, breaking down any barrier as she frequently reached down to the writhing hands of the crowd.  She exclaimed, “This is like a dream for us!” as the band slowed down for a break between songs.

An electronica band playing pop and rock song forms, complete with heavy verses and hooky choruses, Little Dragon skirts between established music genres to make a world of music all its own. The band arranged its two-hour concert like a DJ set, orchestrating slow build-ups that used volume dynamics and rhythmic complexities to churn, relieve and boil up the room. They opened with “Mirrors,” a stealthy, near-a cappella performance centered on Nagano’s wispy, soulful delivery. A simple and sparse electronic drumbeat echoed behind her, as a two-chord synth line cut through the musical fog. Because the concert started so quietly and subtly, when the full volume of the acoustic drum kit came in at the song’s midway point, it sounded like a revelation — even though the tempo was still unbearably slow and the rhythms stuttered. Yet, by the time the full band kicked into the second number, “Please Turn,” the entire room was up and running.

Although most of the band’s sound generates from the two synthesizer players, drummer Erik Bodin engineered the dance grooves. Heavily reliant on disco beats, his consistent use of polyrhythms made the songs deceptively simple and nearly irresistible (this, coming from a reviewer who was not there to dance). But Little Dragon’s dance vibe is mesmerizing. At once earthy and ethereal, the grooves never seemed to stop, even when the drums dropped out between sections of songs or the songs themselves — it was often hard to tell which, as dense layers of keyboards flowed over breaks like slow-moving lava. While Nagano (the primary writer and arranger of the group) was most often front and center, leading the band with her poppy, trip-hop influenced melodies, she also presented herself as a consummate band leader, playing a smoking synth solo early on and also instigating her own drum solo as she stood over Bodin and ripped up his tom-toms during one of three encores.

Another important attribute to the concert was the unusual lighting. The band almost never used the Orange Peel’s stage lights, playing, instead, in dance club darkness. Wands of colored light made patterns along the back of the stage, behind the band, and these seemed to be enough to create the Little Dragon aura. Only after the end of the concert did the front lights come on, highlighting how dark the entire room had been throughout the concert and only briefly revealing the players on the stage.

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