Review of Bassnectar at Bill Graham Civic Center

10/21/2012

It is always a pleasure to see a live performance by free form electronic DJ and producer Lorin Ashton, commonly known as Bassnectar. His accelerated rise to stardom began in junior high while listening to heavy metal and punk rock. A self-taught artist, he eventually transitioned to the addictive, and just as intense, genres of dubstep and drum and bass. While a few of his tracks also contain some elements of breakbeat and glitch, the no-surprise and constant denominator in all of his music is jarring, profound bass.

Last night at The Civic Center, fans awaited along a long fenced in line intended to minimize crowd traffic, which in turn channeled energy amongst the young weekend ravers eagerly bouncing their way into the building’s interior. Bassnectar recounts from his early music days, “I gravitated towards anything heavy, and fell headfirst into the local underground scene, which was full of freaks, lunatics, and overall playful, strange, creative people.” Yes, that is the perfect description of the Bill Graham attendees.

His catalog is large enough that he can get away without playing a few popular tracks, but still entertain an audience for an extended period. Unlike many other electronic talents, Bassnectar’s lengthy set spanned a number of tempos and genres. Last night, he refrained from playing a couple of his classics such as “Lights” with the heavenly vocals by Ellie Goulding or his experimental recreation of the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” In effort to engage the crowd, he requested screams from the audience, using the extra energy as motivation for the next drop. The most memorable originals from his performance were the basified “Vava Voom,” the metrically simple “Ping Pong,” and his live rendition of Nelly Furtado’s “Magical World” which can best be described as cosmic. The warmer, upper levels of the Civic Center rocked just as hard as the floor, and it could be argued that the elevated experience might have exceeded that of the lowers because of the lack of congestion and the complete surreal view of the massive visualizer cycling through hypnotic and colorful transitions behind the stage.

Bassnectar openly advocates for causes such as free press and true media, but on this night, there was nothing. He kept things simple. There was just enough simple communication with the San Francisco crowd to keep folks’ attention and energy in the moment. He did not have to stand on top of his turntable decks, waive a gigantic flag or take his shirt off to maintain the vigor and excitement from his audience. This night was about the music and the feelings it conveyed. Even the gigantic fluorescent big screen behind the stage at one point pulsed the word “MUSIC.”

Many of his die-hard fans consider themselves part of a mini movement. A dedicated community of like-minded fans refers to themselves as “Bass Heads,” frequently travelling to attend his shows similar to the Grateful Dead’s Deadhead community. To recognize these faithful, Bassnectar always takes a short break during his live performances to shoot a “family photo” with the entire crowd behind him, and this night was no exception.

As expected, Bassnectar was forced to end his show sharply at midnight, but evidently most of the audience appeared pleasantly satisfied with the late-evening experience. Both their feet and ears exhausted by the womping bass.