Pop & Hiss

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Live review: Gold Panda at the Troubadour

March 28, 2011 |  2:43 pm

There are two types of musicians who get to play sets twice as long as any of their peers -- electronica DJs and Bruce Springsteen. Sunday night at the Troubadour, the U.K. producer Gold Panda drew his sounds from the former and his emotional payoff from the latter for a 90-minute sold-out set that cemented a major and yet deeply unclassifiable voice in laptop music.

Gold Panda’s album "Lucky Shiner" walks right up to the edge of a number of different genres but never commits to any of them. There are the sad-eyed synth chords of house and rave, the whiplash drum edits of so-called intelligent dance music and dubstep, and the optimism and hooks of pure pop. Save for a few diced vocal samples, it’s all instrumental and meticulously mixed, yet insidiously catchy in ways that many beat-scene peers might find a touch old-fashioned. But it’s that exact quality that make his tunes relentlessly replay-able on record, and satisfying over a live set longer than most movies.

With a modest setup – laptop, pedals and what looked like an iPhone set to a sound-processing app --  Derwin (the sole given name of Gold Panda’s sole member) ventured down practically every turn computer music can go. “Snow & Taxis” throbbed with Kompakt-ish four-on-the-floor German minimalism and foggy trance chords, but brightened up with little bells and a snare drum patter that gave the song a strange kind of optimism. “Marriage” rode a bouncy house bass rendered a bit cryptic by washed-out ambience, and he drew out a half-time bridge to a delightfully unbearable length before the big kick-drum drop.  “You” wrestled with a Kanye-ish pitched-up vocal chop and all sorts of percussive tumult that subverted the hook in constantly surprising ways.

And who knew this sort of thing could have such a ravenous fanbase? It's dance music you can’t dance to, and pop music that pins its hooks on mangled sampling. There’s not much of a “show” either -- as adept as the ever-be-hoodied Derwin is at MPC-thwacking, he could use a few more bodies onstage for  visual purposes.

Yet no one in the crowd flagged for even one of his 90 minutes. The night hit a crescendo when the young (and unexpectedly Westsidey) audience treated the thrashed up Bollywood twang of “Quitter’s Raga” as something like a hands-up festival-closer. If it were a rave, that tune would be when the drugs kicked in. If it were the Boss, it would be his “Thunder Road.” As it stands, though, it’s a truly weird and hopeful tune from one of the most enticing new producers going today.

-- August Brown