Last night’s College show at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan was awash in a haze of pretty colors, neon spectacles and the type of pulsating retrowave synthesizers through which David “College” Grellier’s genuflection toward the 80s has paved the way for scores of bands to feel that it’s OK to bust out their DX7s again.
I’ll get this out of the way: He did, indeed, play “A Real Hero,” his gorgeous and minimalist synth-laden collaboration with Electric Youth that showed up in 2011’s Drive, the film responsible for building up the fan base of a handful of artists who traffic in the dark and shiny.
I’ve seen both groups do their song live this month. Electric Youth had the benefit of being able to perform it in full: Singer Bronwyn Griffin and partner Austin Garrick, along with a couple keyboardists, put on a great performance at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. College, accompanied by two laptops and some other DJ equipment, simply played a great rendition of it using the tools at hand. I had thought that maybe singer Nola Wren, who later performed their new single “Save The Day,” would also do this song, but College relied on Griffin’s recorded vocals. Regardless, it was great that College played it, too. You can never get too much of this song.
College’s performance incorporated visuals in an astute manner. Whereas a dude behind some laptops can devolve into a borefest fairly quickly, regardless of the quality of the music, College had some amazing visuals to accompany his brilliant songs. Sometimes it would be just his name, as pictured above, and other times it would be album covers or colorful images of other worlds.
Some highlights were the title cut of the Teenage Color EP, a colorful stomper that evokes equal parts of teenage naivete and the gin-soaked, coke-addled desperation of Sonny Crockett. The crowd of about 200-300 people either knew the song or fell hard for it, because this was the number that got everyone’s full attention after a soft start.
Another great cut came at the end of the show, when Wren entered the stage to sing “Save The Day.” Much like the recorded version, Wren and Grellier crafted a world of hope tied to warm, bubbly synths and angelic vocals amid the scuzzy backdrop of rough-and-tumble 1980s New York. Wren, dressed in a white, cotton linen tunic and black tights was an impressive chanteuse, grabbing the air to emphasize her role as the saviour in the song, while almost appearing to hover above everyone like some kind of phantasm.
Overall, it was a great show. The arrangements and songs selected honored the size and scope of the show, while showcasing some of College’s best work. I had hoped to check out some of the gear Grellier uses to record his pieces, but I understand that schlepping synthesizers from France as an independent artist is probably not anyone’s idea of fun.
Grellier, in his simple button-up, glasses and Moby-esque baldness defied the idea of a glossy synthmeister, coming off more as a moonlighting English professor, dabbling in a field in which he’s not-so-secretly amazing, rather than as the writer of a certifiable hit like “A Real Hero” and the inspiration behind an army of new 80s-infused groups. And that’s great: Artists who stay true to themselves make for better music and for more interesting shows.
If College is coming to your town, you should go. He’s playing in Boston tonight and several other dates in Canada and the United States through Dec. 14.
(Photos by Vehlinggo)