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CMJ Review: Woodkid at Webster Hall

posted by Hillary Weiss on October 21, 2013

Photo: Woodkid at Webster Hall 2013 by Murad Erzinclioglu for CMJ

New York City -- While France’s Woodkid – also known as director Yoann Lemoine - prepared to take the stage at Webster Hall last Tuesday night, the air was buzzing with double the anticipation.

Although this would be Lemoine’s debut set at Webster Hall, it wasn’t the first time he’d been scheduled to perform. Last year, he had to cancel his appearance due to Hurricane Sandy, much to the disappointment of his fans (including my newly-arrived-in-NYC self).

This time around, his sold-out show also kicked off CMJ Music Marathon’s 33rd year. Needless to say, I had high hopes the live renditions of scores from his impressive debut album The Golden Age would match the occasion.

A little background: Maybe more fascinating than the album itself is the creative route taken to accomplish it. The sweeping ode to the turbulent nature of adolescence was originally recorded with the Orchestra National de France and the Opera de Paris. It was then digitally dissected by Lemoine, synthetically re-crafted, and woven into haunting tapestry of innumerable brass, strings, and drums.

Aside from his explosive instrumentals and vulnerable lyrical stylings, I was also curious to see how the Grammy-nominated director would interpret his distinct aesthetic style onstage. (His music video director’s credits include superstars like Taylor Swift, Drake, and Katy Perry.)

If you haven’t seen them yet - the Woodkid videos are richly produced short films that create the "movie" this soundtrack-like album deserves. Entirely in black and white, with evocative images of stormy seas, barren landscapes, warriors, and monsters, Lemoine proves himself as much a visual virtuoso as he is a musical talent. Directing was his first love, after all.

… But I wondered: how would it translate into live performance?

As Woodkid’s two signature crossed keys appeared onscreen, a 7-piece dressed in black took the stage, and I knew I was about to find out. The heart-squeezing piano notes from "Baltimore Fireflies" filled the air, and the crowd surged forward.

Then, Lemoine emerged from a forest of white spotlights, his signature cap securely in place along with a huge smile.

He was a warm, personable presence, joking with the audience in his thickly accented English: “I actually live here now… I am responsible for the gentrification of Williamsburg,” before launching into another of his more delicate tracks, "Where I Live."

Right away, I noticed the visuals stuck to Lemoine’s monochromatic sensibilities. Throughout the show, the black and white patterns and scenes depicted onscreen referenced motifs from his various videos. Gothic structures, crystallized patterns, and plumes of smoke appeared; paired with an impressively geometric light show.

(As an artist, Lemoine is highly attuned to the power of interlocking themes. The deluxe edition of The Golden Age also includes an illustrated book that provides context for seemingly-obscure lyrics, and the overall meaning of the album. Just a fun fact.)

While "Brooklyn" - a tribute to the borough Lemoine now calls home - eased into the more rhythmically-driven "I Love You" I realized:

Webster Hall had turned into a cathedral of light and sound. It was a sight to behold.

From a performer standpoint, Lemoine may not have been perfectly polished, but he was a pleasure to watch. His absolute delight was evident as he soaked in the wild applause from the crowd. After walking offstage following the uplifting "The Great Escape" and returning for an encore with hit track "Run Boy Run," he was jumping up and down.

He all but skipped across the stage, his expression joyful, but also humbled.

“A year ago,” he explained “I was sitting in my underwear on my computer, moving little blocks and trying to make music...”

The sold-out crowd’s approving reply served as a thunderous reminder: Lemoine’s star is undeniably on the ascending, and probably will be for some time.

After he belted out his closing march "The Other Side" (also the final track on the album) as the crowd swayed, he promised his fans:

“I'll come back soon with a full orchestra!”

I, for one, hope he’s a man of his word. After seeing him bring his visionary album to life onstage with a 7-piece band… I can only imagine what he’d create with an entire ensemble behind him.

I’ll be in that crowd. Will you?

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See Also:

CMJ Photos: Bad Suns, Computer Magic, and More at the Balcony TV & Time Out NY Showcase
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