Upon first glance, one thing seems readily apparent: Trevor Powers is just a kid from Boise, Idaho, land of Mormons and Micron. Then again, Bob Dylan was just a kid of 20 when his eponymous record was released in March 1962. And this is not to hype Youth Lagoon unfairly, but The Year of Hibernation is a ridiculously good record that someone of any age should be pleased to have produced. And it is more than a little eerie how similar Powers, in his flat-billed baseball hat, can look vis-à-vis those classic images of a young, bed-headed Dylan.
We love to associate youth with wild, wanton excess, but a Youth Lagoon show is simply intense…not wild in the least. In some quarters that would be disparagement, but in this vein it is a sign of wisdom beyond the artist’s years. The young crowd could have learned something from their muse, so unaccustomed they are to knowing that not all shows in rock and roll venues are indeed rock and roll shows. Of course, this particular show took place at a venue called Rock and Roll Hotel, so perhaps we can excuse their immature inability to STFU when Youth Lagoon was unleashing some of its poignant and emotionally wrought salience upon the audience. It would not be a stretch to say that a third of the crowd could probably die for their country, but not legally purchase a beer, a fact that almost certainly ensured that the bar could not have had that profitable of a night.
The two-man show exhibited numerous signs of maturity, however, including the all too rare comprehension of an American artist about how to seamlessly and effortlessly crescendo from pianissimo to fortissimo—in both instrumentation and vocalizations—and how to deploy volume symbolically within the emotional gestation of the music. Powers’ Daniel Johnston-like earnestness is endemically endearing, and the accompanying sweetness highlights the tartness of the emotional depths his music deftly plumbs. His synths and keyboards did the job all right, and the timely punch and counter punch of a perfectly attenuated guitar filled the room while leaving a little space for longing. These sparse guitar parts meshed perfectly with Powers’ minimalist harmonization, creating a hauntingly beautiful whole that at times soothed the savage beasts below the stage, upon prompting by the more erudite of peers.
It’s not a perfect live show, and could probably benefit from live drumming. If Youth Lagoon were to add live instrumentation one could envision a time when Powers could find himself plying his craft at Carnegie Hall. Their use of faint echo could pass for AM radio filtered through a cup and a sting “telephone” (a la Kim Gordon, “Tunic”/”Shadow of a Doubt”) and would be particularly effective in an acoustically sound room, rather than the shaky sound systems often found in the types of venues Youth Lagoon is currently gigging.
At times astonishingly good, at times a bit less so, it was an impressive show that hinted at what’s to come. It’s a tricky thing, unfulfilled potential…but the journey towards fulfillment has begun on the right foot.