For all of those in attendance at the Crocodile on Saturday night, rest assured that you got see a show that will never, ever happen again. Tonight, we saw Columbia and RCA's freshest flagship acts play a co-headlining date showing off records that are only crawling up the charts as we speak, and this will be the last time either of them play a venue of this size, let alone together. The night's two offerings were paired in a perfectly complimentary nature. The 80s power pop magic of HAERTS, who KEXP has had nothing but good things to say about since their debut track, "Wings", dropped early last year, opened up the night with an excellent set of material from their self-titled debut LP, out now on Columbia. Then Mikky Ekko followed with a sultry set of R&B-tinged pop tunes from his upcoming RCA debut LP, Time, out January 20. For both of these great young artists, this tour is just the very beginning, and there's a lot of upwards to go from here. But for the dedicated crowd at the Crocodile Saturday night, we got a chance to see HAERTS and Mikky Ekko show off their shining potential in an intimate setting that won't be repeated again going forward.
HAERTS make incredible pop music. If you haven't figured that out yet, please, stop reading this and go listen to their LP of the same name. The four members met at the Iceland Academy for the Arts back at the end of the aughts and have since then been crafting a pop masterpiece of a record that we got to slowly take a peek at over the last two years until it dropped this past October. We've said enough about how much we love "Wings", but soaring singles like "All The Days" and "Giving Up" deserve just as much attention. HAERTS take the songstresses of the 80s and bring them to full life in the modern day, and they are only on the up from here.
HAERTS took every bit of the polished production gleam of their record to the stage tonight. With a quintet setup and an excellently put together mix, the night was ripe with shimmering guitars, groovy bass, and all of the synthesizer textures you could ever want. It also cannot be spoken enough how incredible Nini Fabi's voice is live. Her rich cadence and perfectly wavering vibrato could bring a burning building to a standstill. While her bandmates took the lion's share of the instrumental work, she would occasionally break out a tambourine or bells to add to the noise in between soaring verses. There's no mistake why HAERTS is (and will always be) a band associated with wings and flying - they just soar weightlessly above the rest of the pop spectrum. HAERTS sounded as crisp and vibrant as could possibly be.
The setlist for the evening was excellent. HAERTS only have 13 studio tracks to their name, so there wasn't a ton of expectation for anything else, but the band hit the winners where it counted. Particularly spectacular was the LP's slow burn ballad "Call My Name", which the band expanded into a slightly longer jam for the stage. Also very fun was the record's bonus track "The Creek" whose rough and tumble Fleetwood Mac vibes are a far cry from the delicate pop of "Call My Name" and "Hope". Closing out with a massive rendition of "Giving Up", HAERTS bid farewell until the next time, and we can't wait to have them back.
Mikky Ekko has made waves in the past two years as a songwriter, particularly for lending his talents to the spectacular Rihanna single "Stay". But it looks like Ekko's time for the spotlight is approaching. After releasing a string of EPs and singles over the past couple years, Ekko is finally dropping a full LP at the beginning of 2015, hosting favorites from the past ("Smile" and the excellent Clams Casino-produced "Pull Me Down", among others) and new soon-to-be hits like "Time" and "Mourning Doves". Time is set to be a statement for Ekko on is own terms, and while he'll no doubt continue helping write for some of pop's biggest names, it is fun to see him get to glean some of the acclaim for himself.
Live, Ekko was aided by an excellent backing band of three, giving Ekko's tracks a more rock-heavy vibe than are represented in his studio work. The spacious, hazy production of "Pull Me Down" was given a more forward live presence with use of chorus-heavy guitar and heavier synthesizer. Similarly, "Mourning Doves" felt massive in the live setting compared to the timid outreach for love on the studio cut. All of this is fantastic though - Ekko's voice soars on the stage and it deserves a more vibrant foundation to be carried forward. Thankfully, that's exactly what both he and the fans in the crowd got to experience tonight.
Ekko played through a great set of material new and old, including his great solo rendition of "Stay", which didn't feel like it was missing anything in the slightest. From here, it's clear that the small stage will be a thing of the past for Ekko, especially once Time drops in January. But for now, we got to see a sneak peek of what's to come on the large screen later, and that was a priceless opportunity. Together with HAERTS, the Crocodile got one excellent Saturday evening this week.
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