New York-based groups on the eclectic, world beat label Luaka Bop, founded by David Byrne, shared the stage last night at Le Poisson Rouge as co-headliners. The two bands—Delicate Steve and Javelin—invited an artist outside of their label stable for the opening set, the Brooklyn electronic artist-producer Helado Negro. In equal parts Spanish and English, he crooned sensually over lethargic dance productions, slowly pelvic thrusting on each growling downbeat. The audience was tense and unmoving, the closest spectators forming an awkward semicircle away from the stage. It was difficult to engage a crowd of people anxiously waiting for the howling guitar music of Delicate Steve, but he managed to get some bodies in motion on the lulling synth-washed number 2° Dia.
Delicate Steve took to the stage a few minutes after 10. The initial sonic bursts that emanate from bandleader Steve Marion’s guitar seemed to completely transform the audience as they undulated to the introductory layers of distorted power chords and afrobeat drum patterns. Chants of “Steve, Steve, Steve” followed his opening number. Marion uses his electric guitar as if it were a voice, his frenetic riffs as expressive and lively as any vocalist could hope to muster, most definitively evidenced on the soul-tinged rock-funk of Afria Talks to You.
Multi-instrumentalist Christian Peslak (the singer of Delicate Steve side-project Saint Rich) rounded out their primarily instrumental sound with subtle doses of high-spirited vocal inflections. But it was undoubtedly Steve Marion who stole the show with crowd favorites like Ramona Reborn and Flyin’ High. The lanky guitarist perfectly occupied the space of the meager stage. Reeling backwards between teased-out melodies to further stress the vacant space, Marion would combatively hurl his body forward in time with each calamitous upbeat. At one point he put his finger to his mouth as a gesture of silence. Nearly four minutes go by before the crowd goes completely quiet, and then suddenly the explosive drum kit is resurrected and the salient guitar riff salvaged. Delicate Steve closed with Butterfly, a mind-numbing tirade of agile guitar movements over hyper-accelerated DDR-type drum machines.
Javelin emerged shortly thereafter delivering an impressive, physically involving set. Their plethora of drum machines and samplers made for a incredibly disparate performance, first digging into the ’80s synth-pop lean of their 2010 debut, No Más, on tracks like On It On It before advancing to the more sparse, hip-hop-oriented material from their most recent album, Hi Beams. Songs like Light Out and Nnormal were bottom-heavy electronic productions, with no shortage of rampant cowbell and tight drum cadences. At one point, Javelin settled on a wistful, slack-tempo rhythm featuring sultry flute lines and inebriated kick drums, that eventually emerged as a brief cover the Temptations’ classic, Just My Imagination. Despite technical difficulties with his harmonizer, singer Tom Van Buskirk gave a rousing performance, most notably on the airy hyperspace number, The Stars.