Delicate Steve delivers at WMUA’s alternative spring concert

By Gabe Scarbrough

Shaina Mishkin/Collegian

WMUA presented its alternative spring concert event “Paper Mirrors” last Thursday in Bowker Auditorium. The event featured performances by electronic music producer Hokes and instrumental indie pop band Delicate Steve, as well as a screening of the preview for the documentary based around the event.

Billed as an “audiovisual experience,” the show was enjoyable overall, but its many gimmicks tiptoed the line between ambitious and pretentious.

Upon entrance to the event, attendees were presented with a scroll and told not to open it until the proper time. True to event organizer Dylan Brewer’s mission to “create an experience,” there was much chatter among the audience seated in Bowker wondering what information this rolled up, artificially aged piece of paper contained.

Brewer briefly introduced Hokes and told the crowd to open the scrolls, at which point the house lights dimmed and a video introduction began to play. While artsy shots of attractive women looking contemplative faded into each other on the screen, a deep male voice-over read aloud the letter printed on the scroll, signed from Hokes. The letter expounded on the inspiration for “Head Games,” the piece the artist was about to play, stating that it was inspired by women. Fittingly, the background image on the scroll was yet another artsy image of an attractive women looking contemplative.

Following this multimedia introduction, Hokes took to the stage with what was billed as a “full orchestra.” Despite not featuring the 100 or so musicians that a full-sized orchestra typically entails, 17 musicians participated in Hokes’ set, according to the event pamphlet. This additional instrumentation added immensely to Hokes’s performance.

While Hokes’s performance at last semester’s WMUA event “Hip Hop in Renaissance” often fell flat due to mistimed transitions, this performance had no such hiccups. Performing the songs from his “Head Games” EP front to back live on a Roland SP-404SX sampler and with no pauses, Hokes seemed more confident this time around, perhaps due to the more limited set list.

Despite this, his stage presence still mainly consisted of looking down at his hands as he triggered samples. Paired with the stoic nature of the orchestra members surrounding him, this left little visual showmanship from the performers. However, visuals that projected behind them made up for the lack of stage presence. Lifted from viral videos and music videos, among other sources, the visual element fit the music perfectly and the new arrangements themselves sounded wonderful. Hokes would be wise to record these more fleshed-out versions of his tracks if he ever has the chance to, as they sound even better than the original versions on the EP.

Following Hokes’ performance and a brief intermission, a viral video called “The Greatest Speech Ever Made” was shown. The clip intersperses Charlie Chaplin’s speech from his film “The Great Dictator” with footage from both fictional and documentary film and television illustrating his anti-hate, pro-democracy message. While the clip was intended to set a mood, it seemed almost comically out of left field.

Next, Brewer introduced the screening of the “Paper Mirrors” documentary preview. For the documentary, western Massachusetts-based painter Edgardo Sanchez Jr. created three murals based on headliner Delicate Steve’s past, present and future. Listening to the band’s first two albums and a demo of a song yet to be released, the artist created works of visual art inspired by the band’s music. These paintings were then shown to the band, which in turn created a song inspired by the works. The film documents this process.

The preview’s opening sequence featured a young woman walking around in the woods during winter, looking contemplatively at mirrors hanging from trees. Although it did not seem to have anything to do with either the film’s purpose or the rules of documentary filmmaking, the documentary itself looked promising. Filmed and edited beautifully by University of Massachusetts students Mariah Muscato and Kadyrose Druar, the footage of Sanchez Jr. painting and Delicate Steve being interviewed about its songwriting process looked great. The documentary will definitely be worth checking out when it is released in its entirety.

Delicate Steve took to the stage as the preview ended and began playing its first song almost immediately. According to an interview with Brewer before the show, the band opened with the song it created for the documentary. However, Delicate Steve did not introduce it as such, so it is impossible to know for sure. What is certain, however, is that the band is full of great musicians. It quickly had the audience out of their seats and packed up to the stage, condensing the large audience into the first few rows of the auditorium.

The tight stop-start interplay between lead guitarist (and band namesake) Steve Marion and drummer Jeremy Gustin was fascinating, and the band’s positive energy was infectious. Delicate Steve’s instrumental indie pop had the entire crowd moving along to the beat and jumping with the music at Marion’s command. When he asked for the house lights to be turned up so that he could see the audience, the request seemed 100 percent genuine.

Near the end of the band’s set, Marion asked the crowd to text a phone number that would then return their text with a YouTube link. The audience was then told to open this link and hold up their phones when instructed. This resulted in dozens of cell phones hoisted in the air showing a video of flashing abstract colors. Of all of the gimmicks planned throughout the night, this one was legitimately intriguing.

Delicate Steve’s performance really made this event worthwhile. While Hokes and his orchestra delivered an intriguing performance, and the documentary seems promising, what it comes down to is this: a bunch of people packed up against a stage dancing is worth a thousand paper scrolls, while artsy images of women looking contemplative are sadly cliché.

Gabe Scarbrough can be reached at [email protected]