The Mid is not a venue intended for a group like Chromatics. The 800-capacity Fulton Market megaclub was built to host marquee DJs and EDM artists dishing big beats to the ADD-addled masses fiending for the next drop. Chromatics, meanwhile, is a true band whose strength is mood: precise, simmering atmospherics and dark, driving rhythms that make for a perfect lonely drive in the dark. All this made the notion of the group’s appearance Friday night at the Mid for a Pitchfork Music Festival afterparty seem like a bit of an odd pairing.
On paper at least, it was club-ready opening act Classixx that appeared better suited to deliver. The knob-twiddling L.A. duo Tyler Blake and Michael David had the whole room bouncing to “All You're Waiting For,” the anthem from their 2013 debut LP Hanging Gardens.
Any thoughts that Chromatics would be a comedown were quickly dashed when the four-piece took the stage shortly after 12:30am, opening with an especially propulsive version of “Tick of the Clock,” which scored the opening car chase in Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Drive. Singer-guitarist Ruth Radelet, the doe-eyed chanteuse with an icy, undeniable magnetism, was stunning in a purple, shimmery dress, her long bangs sitting just above her big, sad eyes, the lids of which were blackened with makeup. In both pose and vocal effect, she's a '60s girl grouper adrift in late-'70s, early-'80s clubland. Other times, she’s Nico gone disco.
Radelet was front and center, but make no mistake—Chromatics is Johnny Jewel, also the creative force behind party disco duo Glass Candy, which plays Pitchfork on Sunday, and cofounder of the Italians Do It Better label. Like his pop idols Phil Spector and Giorgio Moroder, the mop-haired Jewel is every bit a Svengali. Bouncing from his perch behind a synthesizer at stage left with glitter tears painted on his face, he cues songs, conducts drummer Nat Walker with the wave of a hand and whispers directives into Radelet's ear.
Rising to the clubby occasion, Chromatics showed a confidence in their musicianship that isn’t always apparent on the band's studio output. Slower-burning songs—“These Streets Will Never Look the Same” from last year’s Kill for Love, “I Want Your Love” from 2007’s Night Drive—were suddenly equally hypnotic and hard hitting. What an uncommon pleasure it is these days to see a group driven mostly by electronics producing the great majority of their sounds live—no glowing MacBook in sight. Walker’s synthesized kick drum, which put the house DJ’s low end to shame, was complemented nicely by the click of Adam Miller’s spare, reverb-drenched rhythm guitar. Jewel’s wizardry with an analog synth cannot be overstated. It’s a joy to watch him plucking out eighth-note octave bass lines and sending the band toward a chorus with a skillful glissando.
Ida No, Glass Candy’s frontwoman, who was in the back of the venue selling Italians Do It Better merch, must have been a little envious of the show Chromatics put on. With Glass Candy’s Sunday gig at Pitchfork around the bend, Jewel has a tough act to follow: himself.
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