Live review: Active Child at the Echo
On the second Monday night of his monthlong residency at the Echo, Pat Grossi of Active Child showed off a bit of stagecraft. “How do you guys like my new Greek statue?” he asked, to widespread approval. “I got it at a flea market.”
The bust of a goddess seemed an apropos thing for Grossi to take onstage. His bell-clear falsetto, trained in church choirs, and the intricate harp-playing that accents the grand sweep of his songs make him something of a classicist.
And yet there’s a bit of the junk-store magpie as well. “You Are All I See,” Active Child’s debut full-length out in two weeks on Vagrant Records, is built on trashy synthetic drums and bleached-out, melodramatic synthesizers that share some distant DNA with Southern rap and the synth-noir soundtrack of “To Live and Die in L.A.” All told, his set heralded one of the most original and ambitious sounds in Los Angeles this year.
Grossi cuts an unusual figure onstage -- lanky, with a close-shaved crop of ocher hair and beachy tank tops. But it underscores the idiosyncrasy of this project, filled out live with an electronic-kit drummer and a multi-instrumentalist flanking him.
Active Child’s sound resonates way beyond what one might expect given its sonic dossier -- he’s toured with the dubstep composer James Blake and indie bands like White Rabbits and School of Seven Bells. Monday’s show found Mischa Barton swooning in the back and comedian Andy Samberg in the throes of a forearms-out thug dance during several tunes.
It might drive you crazy, and Active Child sometimes does. Grossi makes much more accessible use of his deep vocal and instrumental training than many peers (the harp means he’ll get many Joanna Newsom comparisons, which couldn’t be more inaccurate). But the sheer precision of his voice sometimes makes one wonder whether he has a second setting -- something with a bit more relatable human frailty to it, or maybe some uncanny digital manipulation to undermine the purity.
But when he dials down the virtuosity, like on the minimalist ballad “High Priestess,” he reveals an even more difficult skill -- that of a truly memorable pop songwriter with a genre-blind vision. It’s not at all hard to imagine Grossi taking the Bon Iver guest-crooner role on a hypothetical Kanye West album circa 2014. But regardless, the way his young career is shaping up, before long he’s going to need a much bigger statue.
-- August Brown
Photo by Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times