Few and far between are the situations when we lower our inhibitions and give ourselves up to a moment. Toro Y Moi’s show at the House of Blues on Friday was one of these rare and coveted occurrences. Bathed in fuchsia and goldenrod lighting, the floor in front of the stage heaved to the beat of Toro’s electronic tinged-groove in a display that would rival the scenes in most Boston nightclubs.
The early evening showed few hints of what was to come. A sparse collection of teenagers clustered around the stage as older concertgoers lounged against the guardrails, clutching drinks and conversing. A bass-heavy techno song bumped from the speakers, and a lone voice from the floor in front of the stage began singing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in a falsetto as others bopped along to the beat.
When jazz-tinged indie rockers The Sea and Cake took the stage promptly at 8 p.m., the crowd was still meager, but eager to welcome the Chicago-based band. The band launched into its first number after a hurried introduction with a gusto that was undermined by each member’s cool composure. The lead singer was situated at the far left of the stage rather than in the middle, where the seemingly rubber-fingered lead guitarist maneuvered through each song with impressive dexterity.
With long, musical interludes, The Sea and Cake sounds like a dreamy, idyllic jam band. And much of the set did feel like something out of a dream.
For the Toro crowd, however, the repetitive rhythms and similar-sounding songs outstayed their welcome — concertgoers began chatting loudly over the group’s performance as their set stretched from 20 minutes to 30 minutes to 40 minutes. The band’s reluctance to form a relationship with the crowd also took a toll during the set, making one feel as though they had been invited to a friend’s house only to have that friend sit silently facing a wall for their entire visit.
Toro Y Moi, consequently, was met with great enthusiasm by the burgeoning crowd, which had swelled with the end of The Sea and Cake’s set. Toro, led by musician and producer Chaz Bundick and assisted onstage by four musicians, had barely settled in before exploding into their set with an undeniably ‘70s vibe that made the enormous, glittering disco ball at the House of Blues seem all too appropriate (for once).
Bundick, with his explosively curly brown hair and small, round glasses, warmed up to the accommodating crowd almost instantly. Multiple shouts of “Yeah, Chaz!” were greeted with a shy smile from the boyishly handsome South Carolina native. When the band played a particularly rump-shaking number that really got people moving, the joy on Bundick’s face was all too apparent as he murmured a breathless “Wow, thank you!”
While Bundick is skilled at layering sound into a smooth, cohesive package on his albums, this process was occasionally rendered clumsy and deafening in a live setting. The feedback and distortion from the guitar and the bass often drowned out the subtle layers of Bundick’s keyboard, synthesizer and his soothing, gentle croon. In an attempt to be heard over the musical cacophony, Bundick’s voice sometimes came across as whiny and nasally. Bundick and company eventually hit their stride about a third of the way through the set, taming the same rawness that previously caused problems and using it to instead invigorate the hollow electronic sounds of Bundick’s albums.
And invigorate he did. By the time Toro hit the stage one last time for a single-song encore, almost the entire crowd was shaking hips, waving hands, or tapping a foot to Bundick’s infectious electronic rhythms. In their best-known single Deee-lite, a New York-based club dance group, claimed that “groove is in the heart.” But on Friday, it was found at Toro Y Moi’s show at the House of Blues.