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Friday, September 18, 2015

Live: Purity Ring bring populist future pop to The Ritz

Posted by on Fri, Sep 18, 2015 at 11:57 AM

click to enlarge Purity Ring's Megan James - PHOTO BY DAVID FORD SMITH
  • Photo by David Ford Smith
  • Purity Ring's Megan James
Purity Ring, HANA
The Ritz, Raleigh
Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015

As attendees filed into The Ritz Wednesday night to see Edmonton’s Purity Ring, I wondered whether the band could pack a 2,000-capacity venue.

Singer Megan James and bandmate Corin Roddick were initially in the experimental pop group Gobble Gobble (now renamed Born Gold). Roddick started Purity Ring as a side project. On the strength of just a few online tracks, including “Ungirthed,” legendary British label 4AD offered the pair a contract. Since then, the band has released two records of futurist pop cut with trap percussion and big-room EDM flourishes, disguising James’ nightmarish lyrics. Their mix of modern influences, especially on 2012’s Shrines, foresaw the way recent Top 40 fare has raided Internet-savvy hip-hop and electronica.

And on Wednesday night, young women wearing N.C. State sorority shirts chattered with each other. Geeky health-goth teens in white Nikes milled about. At one point, a Grimes song played over the PA, and a young woman near me exclaimed “oh my god.” This is one of the most intriguing aspects of Purity Ring: their audience. They attract the standard mix of indie kids and witch house apologists. But they also lure Top 40 fans, EDM ravers and rap dorks. Their brooding pop has crossed taste lines, so the show nearly sold out the house.

The night opened with HANA, a singer-songwriter from Los Angeles. HANA has gained traction recently as one of the many planets in Canadian pop songstress Grimes’ orbit, and it shows in her music. Longtime Grimes collaborator Blood Diamonds backs some of her tracks, which are influenced by pop singers like Lorde and dance producers like Yasutaka Nakata. The set was empty in visual effects, with Hana simply striding around the stage. But she made up for it with an admirable vocal performance.

Purity Ring then took the stage on time. Unlike HANA, their dedication to live spectacle is a marvel. Roddick stood elevated in the background with his trademark set of MIDI-triggered lamppost lights at the ready. But the stage belonged to James, who donned a plain white jumpsuit with futurist shoulder pads. She resemble something out of a Kubrick notebook. She paced like a singer possessed, gliding her way through a mesmerizing grid of stage lights that resembled dense, glowing forests of '60s door beads. The lights pulsed with intricate patterns, matching the songs’ ebbs and flows. It was one of the best light shows I’ve seen on a club stage in recent years.

The setlist was conservative, though, heavy on the new record and using older crowd-pleasers like “Obedear” and “Fineshrine” to space out the recent tunes. Closer “Begin Again,” the anthemic lead single from 2015’s Another Eternity, sounded especially lavish. They didn’t indulge the crowd with their cover of Soulja Boy’s “Grammy,” but time is money, I suppose, and they were on to the next stop.

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