A Tycho concert has a lot in common with a psychoactive drug: Shared side effects include diminished neurotransmission, hypnosis and euphoria. The band’s live performances closely resemble a lengthy acid trip; the effects come as somewhat of a surprise, and you don’t fully realize the intensity of the journey until it actually begins. Right from the start, Tycho’s music overtakes listeners, leaving them completely absorbed in the show. Tycho’s frontman Scott Hansen seemed conscious of this at the group’s April 18 performance at The Sinclair in Harvard Square. Onstage, the equipment looked pristine, with symbols featuring copper polish and neatly stacked synths, accompanied by Zac Brown — the bands’ live bassist — standing perfectly straight. All this — the symbols, synths and bassist — was postioned in front of a white sheet. Everything was orderly, 100 percent pure and uncut.
Instead of indicating a propensity for simplicity, this white sheet served as a canvas for the group. Behind the band, a series of projected images was the focal point of the performance and of the music itself, corresponding perfectly with both the tempo and sentiment of the songs. In the beginning, color-changing geometric forms were projected onto the sheet. Eventually, the forms began to morph, as if they were being viewed through a kaleidoscope. Later, the projected shapes transitioned to grand depictions of the natural world — dark caves and broad expanses of desert captured on live film. Though some of the images depicted light dancing off of water or the sun peaking over dunes, they remained largely static, capturing only subtle movement. In contrast, scenes of individuals breaking through the surface of the ocean or surging toward the top of a mountain were much more dynamic. Hansen clearly has a thing for the sun, favoring images in which light has an active role: it is found in droplets of water, in beams of light or passing through negative space. To the observer, the difference between motion and stasis dissolved, and life appeared as a picture rather than a series of events. Combined with a steady pulsing sound, the effect was disillusioning, separating the audience from distinguishable reality. Tycho is the closest you can come to doing drugs without actually taking any.
Tycho manages to achieve many of the same musical feats present on its popular records during its live performances. Sweeping melodic riffs, layered tones and percussive consistency were replicated with absolute precision. Rory O’Connor — Tycho’s drummer — was almost mechanic, entirely in sync with Hanson’s looped synth. While it was at times difficult to distinguish one track from another, each melody ultimately sounded distinct. Live, the synth felt both melancholic and comforting. There was a mathematical nature to the interplay between the musical elements, which interacted with a startling amount of precision.
Out of context, Tycho looks like the poor man’s Radiohead. Frankly, a Tycho concert can often feels like a less engaging version of legitimate ambient bands like Atoms For Peace, Phantogram or Black Moth Super Rainbow. However, while it is fair to complain that live each song tends to blend together or feature recurring sounds, such critiques miss the bigger picture: namely, that much of the band’s work is intentionally repetitive. Only by blending together the pieces can the band be perceived as a unit — one that offers a profound, intelligent and individualized experience.