ODESZA Brings 'Classy Electronic' To Terminal 5: Live Review

Stefan Hoederath/Redferns

In interviews, the electronic act ODESZA presents its work as an antidote to the aggressive wing of the genre that rules in places like Las Vegas. “I think people are getting sick of the same EDM stuff, and we try to keep it classy electronic,” Harrison Mills explained. “We want to make sure we are hitting beats but not overpowering listeners.” This strategy has aided the duo’s rapid rise: ODESZA took the stage last night to play the second of three consecutive sold-out shows at Terminal 5 in Manhattan.

Mills met Clayton Knight in college in Washington State, and the pair’s debut album, Summer’s Gone (2012) mixed the grand sweep of popular electronic music with the more atmospheric, instrumental hip-hop approach of an artist like Bonobo, whom the duo have supported on tour. ODESZA is currently signed to Counter, an imprint of Ninja Tune, which counts Bonobo as a marquee act.

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But In Return, from 2014, was the work of a different group, one with a more refined understanding of pop frameworks and an appreciation for the way a hook can melt a crowd of restless individuals into one heaving mass. On many songs, the samples now served a secondary melodic function next to anonymous-sounding vocalists. “Sun Models” presaged the tropical synth pop that dominated radio in 2015: with minor tweaks, it could be a track by Major Lazer or DJ Mustard. People responded positively to the new direction, and In Return debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic albums chart.

At Terminal 5, Mills and Knight played behind two keyboard and drum setups. The pair were joined periodically by a small horn section -- one trombone stage left, one trumpet stage right -- and a live guitar player who set up camp dead center. The live horns are an unusual texture to find at a show in this genre, though the brass sometimes seemed comical next to the military-grade, wall-crumbling synthesizers.

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Popular electronic music has been criticized for being averse to musicianship -- accusations that paint DJs as talentless button-pushers are not unusual -- and this duo clearly takes pride in the fact that it isn’t just another pair of men dancing around behind banks of equipment. But initiating kinetic activity is still an important part of ODESZA’s appeal, and both men frequently retreated from their instruments to stomp and gyrate.

Five panels of visuals behind the band served to align the imperious structures of the music with various cosmic wonders. Massive rock formations towered in the background before shattering apart in dusty blasts -- the grandeur of the old undone by the violence of the new. Several frames suggested the eye of Jupiter; red-hot bubbles of lava seethed and boiled.

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The music did the same: ODESZA employed time-honored strategies to work the crowd into a lather. The duo hammered on bass drums as if martialing troops to war, occasionally evoking the plodding, battle-cry-ready rock of Imagine Dragons. Other rhythmic forms trickled in -- at one moment, there was so much reverb on the drums that the beat approximated reggaeton, while “Say My Name” borrowed from muted piano house.

To incite frenzy, ODESZA took the chirping vocal samples that darted through its tracks, pitched them up and switched the cymbals into a double-time pattern simultaneously, approximating the mixture of trap and electronic music that has become ubiquitous in the ‘10s thanks to producers like Hudson Mohawke. It was fitting, then, that the night ended with a nod to Mohawke’s horn-heavy “Chimes.” The distance between the sound of mainstream and the fringes collapsed in the name of compelling movement.