Autre Ne Veut. Lost Lake Lounge. 10.16.15
Arthur Ashin was slouched down in a puddle of his own emotions while singing into his arm – “No way, no way, no way you’re gonna be my baby” – the words were slightly muffled as he buried his face all the way to the brim of his backward baseball cap. The man behind Autre Ne Veut was almost an hour into his performance at Lost Lake Lounge and he’d already ran the gamut from a (not in the least bit typical) cocksure R&B frontman to a vulnerable, lo-fi basement dweller. Standing above the small (but rabid) crowd, arms spread wide like Jesus on the cross, he demanded attention during “Gonna Die”, only to turn his boots in the other direction once he’d received his fill. He would skip and dance his way across the stage like he was enjoying the greatest night of his life, only to stop mid-stream to collapse under the weight of it all. It wasn’t uncommon to find him holding himself tight, as if trying to contain something inside, only to release it via his signature falsetto. The almost schizophrenic nature of the performance was infectious; the audience matched his mood beat for beat, making it literally one of the most unique live music experiences I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of.
Autre Ne Veut started out as an anonymous project with the release of a self-titled LP in 2010. Tracks like “Two Days of Rain” and “OMG” had me describing the sound as a “danceable alternative to How To Dress Well.” It wasn’t until a few years later that Ashin introduced himself with Anxiety. Showcasing a much bigger sound, with a lot more thought given to the level of production, Anxiety solidified Autre Ne Veut as one of the most interesting projects to come out of the so-called PBR&B underground, while tracks like “Play By Play” demonstrated an ability to take things mainstream. Unfortunately, Ashin never made it through Denver on that tour, so when he took the stage with his band last night, “Cold Winds” from Age of Transparency (an album even bigger than Anxiety in terms of sound and scope) acted as his Colorado debut. Although it is one of the more accessible tracks from an album that has divided some fans and critics, “Cold Winds” (and Ashin’s general disposition) made two things very clear… Autre Ne Veut has outgrown the basement, but it has decided to forgo the mainstream. Ashin is going to produce the music he wants to make, and if Age of Transparency is any indication of what that music is going to be, there will be no compromising.
Ashin was backed by a drummer, bassist, keyboardist, and female backup singer last night, so “Panic Room” wasn’t quite as naked as it is in the American Idol-aping video, but it was just as unsettling and powerful. “Counting” would be the first of many selections from Anxiety, and when Ashin actually rapped the Mykki Blanco verse from the remixed version, he proved himself extremely capable with the flow. That flow continued into “Warning”, as he spread some real hip-hop flavor over the track to make it something very different than the original. The front few rows were going absolutely batshit crazy by that point. The crowd at Lost Lake was one of the most diverse I had ever seen. With only 50-60 people in attendance, there were literally representatives from every generation, sexuality and subculture. And every one of them seemed to be feeding off the energy of the next. Usually the drunk guy jumping around in the front row is a nuisance, as is the girl who is screaming lyrics in your ear, but those people were welcome with open arms. They were all part of the experience. Even sound problems, like the mic feedback when Ashin pushed his voice past all recommended limits during “Age of Transparency”, were hardly a problem. Mics are supposed to pop when you’re seeing live music in a bar where the bathrooms don’t have locks and the walls literally look like they are crumbling around you, right?
Showing very little attention to the band beforehand, Ashin chose his backup singer as a partner during “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, although it looked more like an attack than a dance. The gay guy behind me was trying to convince the superfan in the front row to lose his shirt during “Don’t Ever Look Back”. “You’re not a real fan unless you take your shirt off.” Ashin was on the keys for the beginning of “World War”, but ended up in a cuddle puddle with himself by the end of it. He was surrounded by a gift of rose petals by that point. There were moments when I wanted to get up there and hug the guy…there were moments when I literally wanted to start a pit…there were moments when he made eye contact and I had to look away because it became too personal…and there were countless moments when I was completely captivated by everything on that stage. At one point some guy blurted out “what the fuck is happening?!!!” and I completely understood what he meant. Standing still, with his hand over his heart, Ashin thanked the crowd before closing the set with “Get Out”. A stand-out track from the new album, it was a highlight of the night, but it left us wanting more. We weren’t left for long though. Taking a minute or two to collect himself backstage, Ashin followed the band back out for “Play by Play”. Arguably his best song, the fact that I didn’t even realize it was missing is a testament to how good the main set was.
I hope I’ve been able to convey how incredible the performance was last night, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain the overall experience. I attended the show with my wife. I was hesitant to invite others because I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I love almost everything Autre Ne Veut has done up to this point, but I realize it’s not exactly a universal sound. It was my first time to Lost Lake since they’ve remodeled and I barely recognized the place. It ended up being the perfect venue though. The stage is up higher than Larimer Lounge, so it’s easier to see. The room is small, but it’s comfortable. At 50-60 people, the place looked packed, but there was plenty of breathing room. We met and talked to more random people than we have at any other show. Some of the conversations were good, some were bizarre, some were fun, but they were all interesting. One of those conversations was with Ashin himself. When he walked off the stage after the encore, people tried to shake hands or fist bump him, and he shunned them all. He had a look of distress on his face. But a few minutes later he was on the patio shaking hands, engaging in conversation, and taking photos with fans. He was extremely humble, friendly, and approachable. He didn’t last long though. A few minutes later he was gone again. As we left the venue, my wife compared the performance to Prince. Of course she was exaggerating, but it didn’t seem so outlandish at the time. It was just one of those shows that seemed so much bigger than it really was. It felt important.
Living as a Ghost
Autre Ne Veut:
World War, Pt. 2
Age of Transparency
I Wanna Dance With Somebody
Don’t Ever Look Back
Play by Play