The Juan Maclean
Friday, Sept. 27
Local 506, Chapel Hill
What happened at the 506 last night wasn't what anyone expected: The club's sound engineer conceded that New York's The Juan Maclean didn't think the crowd would be nearly as sizable or as lively as it was. But the large group of 20-somethings that flowed straight into the front in a whoosh projected the energy of an audience twice its size. Strangely, most of the crowd seemed a bit, well, unfamiliar, dropped in suddenly from somewhere else.
The Juan Maclean, John Maclean's band playing live house-y dance music, lit them up early and often. The crowd moved in lunges like some odd flock of peacocks, bobbing to and fro, flapping their arms, hands flat as if fanning a fire. The males wore their baseball caps backward. The females occasionally puffed themselves up, their ruffled skirts and pegged jeans showing only in the glints of light cutting through the dark room. Plumes of clove cigarette smoke enveloped them at the rear of the bar.
When he made greetings after the set's beginning, Maclean thanked everyone for coming to see them, though the flash-in-the-pan Ratatat was playing a sold-out gig down the street at Cat's Cradle. Perhaps the unexpected crowd was the formerly dejected, currenly elated runoff? Maclean and his band punched through their songs like a pencil stabbing through crisp paper. Maclean manages a Theremin beside his synthesizer set-up, and he uses it to color the quick build-and-release of his songs. When the band arrived at "Happy House," its latest single and a stellar example of how to maneuver the modern terrain of gritty, vocal, dance music, it arrived at an apex of sound overload, with everything in the red. But singer Nancy Whang, who is also in LCD Soundsystem, played the ice queen perfectly, adding a cold eroticism to the song's ecstatic vibe. The heavy pace down to a heartbeat's rhythm. Just when it appeared to evaporate, the song reemerged in an explosive coda.
The folks in the front looked exhausted, and the band walked out with one synthesizer letting a high-pitched squeal serve as the exit music.