the many ways to hear Porches' Pool

by Pearl Shen

The Medium Matters
What could be more exhilarating than seeing one of your favorite musicians live? Music that had previously only been in your head is right in front of you. You aren’t separated by production, but you’re part of the music, part of the experience. As it turns out, there are plenty of people that prefer the experience on their own—they want to hear the music as the artist wants it to be heard and no other way. I was first introduced to Porches by my high school friend Johnny—that sounds like a cliché. We have the same taste in music, so I’m always ready to hear something new while driving around town in his old Trooper. I remember Johnny excitedly pulling up Porches on Spotify, but it didn’t take long for me to feel that something was off about Aaron Maine’s overly auto-tuned voice. Like so many vocalists today, Maine just didn’t feel human enough. Despite the song’s overall sparseness and minimal use of synth, I felt repelled by Maine's voice. I upped the volume, fiddled with the air conditioning, the trooper hummed, and I soon switched to the more familiar synth beats of Com Truise.

Four months later, I purchased tickets to see Alex G at Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco. He has quickly become one of my favorite artists in what has become a very stressful year. I was thrilled to see him perform live, and hadn’t realized he was headlining with Porches that night. His DIY lo-fi indie rock sound is not unlike Maine’s earlier work. Unfortunately, Alex G’s performance was naïve and riddled with slip-ups. He seemed overconfident, yet underprepared: while playing lead guitar he stumbled through his solo as if his foot were caught in a jump rope. I felt the worst embarrassment you can feel—secondhand embarrassment. As my friends and I cringed through a couple more lazy blunders, we sang along, but the noise was muddy and I was quite disappointed.

You can't sit on the Porches
Porches was next up on stage, a band I had not even thought about since driving around in Johnny’s Trooper and having a bad reaction to Maine’s synthy crooning… And, shocker upon shocker, I was absolutely captivated by Maine’s incredible performance. Porches’ synth-pop sound stood up against Alex G’s guitar distortions and teased the crowd into a dancy vibe. I never thought the simple beats I heard in the Trooper could be so lively and satisfying. The people around me definitely had found Maine’s groove, too, and we all swayed back and forth on the crammed floor of Rickshaw Stop. Even though I was also dancing, I almost felt left out for not giving Porches another chance sooner. I was a bad person for being late to the scene, practically a cultural crime when you're an art student. The energy of the band revived me, and Maine locked my interest with his quirky, memorable stage persona.

I couldn’t get enough of Porches after that experience—I decided to see them again live at the Independent, a distinguished music venue in San Francisco. I was pretty excited. I heard that many great artists had performed at the Independent, and it was going to be my first time there. Rivergazer (a project of Porches’ guitarist Kevin Farrant) and Japanese Breakfast opened with great energy. Rivergazer plays a synth pop bass similar to that of Porches, and Japanese Breakfast is a band that I enjoy listening to on Spotify from time to time.

A palm tree and a tad eccentric
This time, I was ready for Maine’s eccentric stage personality, and looked forward to dancing along with the audience. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t the same as my first experience. The Independent has a great reputation, but it draws in concert-goers that are just looking for something to do for the night. Instead of Porches fans, there were way too many people there to chat, to look for dates, and to dress up. There was a lot of noisy chatter throughout the set that took away from the intimacy of the show. I ended the night more tired than satisfied.

Pool is still one of my favorite albums from the year, and it was great to have the chance to experience Porches in so many different ways. It made me realize that it’s important how and where we hear music. In a friend’s Trooper, in a small club, or surrounded by vacant hipsters. It matters. I miscalculated what I thought would be the best way to experience Alex G. Some songs just aren’t crafted to be heard live in front of a large audience. I believe he’s best heard without distractions, and his recordings have a much needed clarity that his live performances lack. Looking back on the first time I gave Porches a listen, the Trooper’s old speaker system could not have been worse for the debut. How does the artist want you to hear their music? You never know what works, but its best to know how rapidly our responses can change.

Not optimal

©Pearl Shen and the CCA Arts Review

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