Photos by Jati Lindsay. Please support.
People, where have you been? // Have you been hiding // in your big houses?
~ Little Dragon, “After the Rain”
I had to hear it right then. I remember getting the itch at a board meeting where everyone gathered in a cramped room to host yet another meeting about meetings. Yawn. I finally found an excuse to sneak upstairs to the main office to make copies and fiendishly tapped “Blinking Pigs” into the YouTube search bar. I couldn’t shake the hollow, vibrating intro and subtle percussion that builds up to Yukimi Nagano’s effortless vocals. In the middle of my work day, for three and a half minutes, I blasted “Blinking Pigs” at full volume and danced buoyantly between my co-worker’s cubicles. For the first time, I was grateful for the copy machine’s sluggish turnaround, buying me enough time to repeat steps one (confirm main office door is locked), two (press play) and three (bounce around gleefully).
Nagano, the lead singer of the Swedish synthesized soul-pop band, Little Dragon, reminds me of one of my favorite older cousins, Elaine, who used to take photographs of legumes to make them appear slightly pornographic and held cookie parties for NYC’s elite arts underground in her Lower East Side loft. Elaine also took me to my first salsa dance class in New York when I was a teenager. I stomped around awkwardly in combat boots because she sprung the lesson on me, and my winter gear left me woefully unprepared. What Yukimi and Elaine share is the ability to migrate effortlessly across genre confines. They both splintered their own glass ceilings delicately and deliberately rather than smashing through them. Or, as I like to say, “Different approaches, same F-U.” They both embody grace, behave strangely, remain feminine and admirable all at once. And they play in a boy’s world without apology.
Neither Yukimi nor her bandmate, Hakan, succeeded in being accepted into music school. Tell that to the 750 people who swayed impatiently to the electronic folk band (sans vocals or audience interaction) while awaiting Little Dragon’s performance at the Black Cat last Saturday, January 22, and see if they blink.
It had been a long time since I’d been to the Black Cat, but opening act Billygoat’s “Little Miss Sunshine” / “Amelie” soundtrack vibe warmed me up, albeit slowwwwly, for some Little Dragon. Little did I know that we were all about to go into a collective trance, or that the kiss-and-grind fest would commence as soon as Dreamykimi hit the stage. Wow. The audience was getting it IN. Enhanced states of consciousness? Definitely. Being sober left me shocked as I observed foursomes in the making and, more innocently, people engaged in private moments of hypnotism. Visibly enthralled by the ambient yet danceable melodies on stage, hundreds of shoulders wove through space to the LD staples: “Constant Surprises,” “Runabout,” “Wink” and, of course, “Blinking Pigs” were among my favorites.
Though the concert started past 11 p.m., once the musicians hit their first notes, we were all captivated by the magical qualities the band possess. Of Little Dragon’s second album, Machine Dreams, Liv’s owner, Omrao Brown, commented on his blog, “It’s kept me happy and held me over.” I saw just how happy Little Dragon made the crowd on Saturday. When technical difficulties held up the bass player, the audience launched into an encouraging soul clap as Yukimi apologized for being bad at telling jokes. The band quickly recovered and shared “Little Man” and “Summer Tears,” two new tracks from their forthcoming third album.
With several DC appearances in the last year thanks to folks like MN8 and Shine On Me Productions, it’s okay to admit a few of y’all–not naming names–were a bit tardy to the party. But, I think we’ll all be glad if Little Dragon keeps making DC a preferred destination. On the Little Dragon Web site, the biography writer explains, “Basically they are like family because they see a lot of each other. [They] will continue to make music hopefully until grey and senile.” Yes, please! It might have taken the city a few go-rounds to finally sell out a Little Dragon show, but judging from Saturday’s turnout, I doubt DC will sleep on any future tours.
Little known fact? Cover art for their first album, Peace Frog Recordings, was done by Yusuke Nagano, Yukimi’s father, whose artist statement confirms:
I was a champion of rascals.
Shout-out to Asian dads who raise brave, singing daughters unafraid to throw a sheet over their heads to find a moment of solitude (see image by Jati Lindsay) and drink in their own beautiful music. In a room full of people chanting your name, many of whom opt to “experience” the moment via their “Smart”/camera phones, that’s certainly no small victory.
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