There’s always a difficulty being an artist that’s transitioned from a bedroom project to a touring live act – especially one with a rotating lineup of musicians. For one, there’s the effort to move intimacy into the public sphere. There’s also the need to form a connection with your audience: something that was more of an after-thought in your early incarnation. For North Carolina’s Lost in the Trees, it would seem they’re still trying to work all of this out.
Yes – they’re no strangers to the stage by this point, but the fact of the matter is that they’re still missing that mysterious connecting factor that touring acts are required to convey.
They appear to be aware of this flaw and, as an impressive light show evidenced, are taking steps toward correcting the problem. But this also worked against them, oddly enough, and highlighted the issue. Because when you’re paying more attention to the lights behind them than you are to the actual band, it’s probably not a good sign.
Other efforts to connect came a bit too late. It took the five-piece until the last song of their set to urge the 100-or-so people in attendance to move forward and fill the gap between the crowd and the stage. This was an especially odd request given they ended on a quieter acoustic number.
Thankfully there were positives to an otherwise homely set and it’s their saving grace. To put it bluntly: Lost in the Trees make good music. The intersecting vocals of frontman Ari Picker and keyboardist Emma Nadeau work well with one another, recalling the harmonies of Grizzly Bear on the night’s opening song. They also pull off memorable moments of bombastic instrumentals – the guitar riff on the title track from their recently released third album Past Life and the fuzzed-out, Queens of the Stone Age-like guitar solo on “Neither Here Nor There” invigorating moments of musicianship.
“Upstairs,” another from the new album, was also a highlight and sounded like it would fit comfortably on Radiohead’s In Rainbows – the piano, bass, and percussion coming together like the best possible substitution for putting on “All I Need.”
Truthfully, their Sunday night set was a bit like watching Death Cab For Cutie live. They sound great and there are certainly things to appreciate, but it’s dull and the heft of their live capabilities aren’t yet enough to outweigh that fact.
I was left with the sense that Lost in the Trees are still trying to work out how to headline a show. There are things to like, yes, but the lesson here is that if you’re going to be earnest performers (and there’s nothing wrong with being just that,) you need to find a way to connect with the people in front of you – not just play to them.