Purity Ring’s opener for their Another Eternity tour is LA-based artist HANA, and she took the stage last Saturday night in front of a packed house at Austin Music Hall. My first thought was that this is what Grimes would be like if she had a bit more pop culture appeal. You know, pretty face, tight clothes, all the stuff people want to see from a female musician (gag!). But real talk, the music was similar, just significantly more accessible than some of Grimes work. Come to find out, Claire Boucher actually calls HANA a dear friend, and Blood Diamonds (who worked with Grimes on “Go”) was the producer on HANA’s “Clay.” A not-so-curious connection.
HANA was alone on stage with just a mic and and whatever electronic goodies she was hiding behind her sashed equipment table, and her one-woman show commanded the crowd’s attention regardless of whether they were there to see her or not. She was a great choice for an opening act, and will stand to gain a lot of fans as this tour continues. She made one of me.
Floor level tickets had been sold out for days and Austin Music Hall was full to the brim for the start of Purity Ring’s set, which they opened with “Stranger Than Earth” off their new album Another Eternity.
The stage was outfitted with a sea of cables hanging from the ceiling, each sporting a string of illuminated pearls. Throughout the show, the tentacle-like cords showcased a superb array of colors, patterns, and effects, changing from song to song to match the vibe and the pace of the music. This set up was not only fun for the crowd to look at, but I would bet they are pretty fun for singer Megan James to play with on stage, and I know the woman or man controlling them behind the scenes HAS to have a good time. I want that job.
They skipped through the first handful of songs at a quick pace, cruising on the excited anticipation you could feel pulsating through the room at the step of the booming bass. Speaking of the bass, they had it turned up a few more notches than I recall from the last time I saw them (which was a few years ago on the Shrines tour). I had been warned that the sound at Austin Music Hall was not the best, but Purity Ring capitalized on what they had to work with, filling the large space with more sound than I honestly thought the duo possessed. While listening to a Purity Ring record in your bedroom might not give you the sense that this band has the potential to get loud, a live show will prove you quite wrong. What can seem like sad, quiet music in one setting transforms into a thumping pop concert in another.
After the first five songs (including “Heartsigh,” “Obedear,” and “Lofticries”), they paused briefly to thank HANA for opening up, and I paused to make a note to do some research on how Corin Roddick’s touch-sensitive light-emitting drum machine worked, and thankfully, their behind the scenes video with Creators Project answered a lot of my questions. Each “cocoon” is connected to a midi machine which turns the stroke of his drum stick into a wave form which can then be run through Ableton to translate it to a synth note. I think I got that right. Learn more here.
They also discussed in the interview their desire from day one to create a visual performance that was engaging for the audience, and to not just expect people to want to watch a guy press buttons on a keyboard. From their humble DIY beginnings with the Roddick’s first home-made light set up to the full-stage experience they are able to put on now, the band are certainly not a bore to watch. Mission accomplished.
With a huge eruption from the crowd and explosions of firework-like lights, they jumped right into the popular single “Push Pull” before hushing things down to build up to “Belispeak,” a cut from their debut record. While Shrines is notably more quiet and creepy (yes, creepy) than their more recent material, it was interesting to see this older song translated to their new live show. I never thought I’d feel like “Belispeak” was a dance party kind of song, but the crowd in Austin thought otherwise. They continued on the old-song train with “Crawlersout” which saw James hopping behind the instrument table with Roddick to add a few notes of her own.
If I had thought the crowd was nutty before, I was proven wrong when they went into “Bodyache,” one of the singles from Another Eternity. I should be used to things like this by now, but it was wild for me to see so many mouths singing along when a few years ago, the vast majority would of these people would have thought only of a piece of jewelry symbolizing a commitment to abstinence if someone mentioned “purity ring”.
For “Dust Hymn” I was more than happy to see the illuminating gong that James used on their last tour resurface. This time, rather than standing alone on the side of the stage, the gong was hung high above Roddick’s table, with James ascending a platform to showcase it’s effects.
I must admit that I lost it a little when the first few notes of “Flood on the Floor” came through the speakers. I just cannot fathom how this song was not a single. It’s absolutely the most hard-hitting track on the album, with the most fierce breakdown of anything they’ve ever put out. I won’t try to sell you on it, just watch for yourself.
If anyone thought that there weren’t enough interesting lights and light-up instruments on stage at this point, James appeased their desire for more when she revealed a new toy – a row of light-emitting vertical tubes she played while wearing mirror-lined gloves that threw the light in all different directions. Another note to self to research how this thing works.
The two songs she played with this instrument were a slow point in the show. That’s not to be taken in a bad way; one of my favorite things about this band and this show in particular is their ability to take the listener on a roller coaster of dancefloor-ready tracks to slower, more melodic ones like “Sea Castle” and “Stillness in Woe”.
After an old favorite “Fireshrine” saw an animated crowd brimming with enthusiasm, James paused to address the group, who absolutely went nuts upon her expressing her love for Austin. She also warned, “We have one left and we don’t do encores.”
What had been missing from the set? “Begin Again,” of course. With a mass of people screaming the words back to her, James let the voice of the masses sing the end of the last verse as the music faded. With the drop of that next beat, she threw herself into the eager crowd and surfed her way through to the end of the show.
On the whole, Another Eternity has infinitely more pop value than their debut album, and whether you consider that a good or bad thing, the’ve upped their own game in terms of how they perform these songs live, both new and old. They continue to evolve into a more pop friendly outfit, and I’ll be the first one to applaud them for their success. I just hope they don’t let this Nick Jonas collaboration go too far…