Sometimes you walk into a show expecting a pretty great thing, and emerge having experienced something three shades different, but still great - like the band jumped on the tour bus and started swerving, and your expectations went along for the ride. Sweden’s Miike Snow returned to the 9:30 Club on Wednesday night for two shows, six months after an appearance there in April. After hearing reports on that show what one would expect was a sweaty kickassian throw-down. What they brought was part sweaty dance party, part Scandinavian art show, part emo-tinged bare souled confessional that while wholly unanticipated, was great nonetheless.
The band came onstage single file to “Enter the Jokers Lair,” complete with gold masks and black hoodies. The first track on this year’s Happy to You was obviously designed to be the opening song for every show Miike Snow will perform for the next 10 years, much like “Animal” will be the closing encore song. It’s not a thrashy dance track, but more of a chill wave groove thing that takes a while to warm up. When they followed it up with “The Wave,” another mid-tempo grinder, the floor crowd aborted attempts to get a dance pit going and stood relatively still, absorbing the visuals and dazzling lights going off all over the stage with every available smart phone. Or maybe it was just early.
Thankfully Miike Snow took off the masks after one song, let down the hoodies, and just played, but even by “Bavarian #1 (Say You Will),” which was bouncy as all hell, it was still a little sedate in the lower level (not so in the balconies, where hordes of dancing guys showered us below with accidental beer spillage). Mid-set when they got to “Pretender,” the entire club finally erupted into a shaky mass of fist pumping arms and random flailing about, which was what we were all there for in the first place. “Silvia” was just simply stunning, and it turned into a weirdly evocative singalong followed by a lot of jumping around and shouting, but the song is a kaleidoscope of sound and lends itself well to that sort of psychosis. And don’t get me started on “Paddling Out” - my calf muscles are still in recovery.
There was nothing surprising about the blinding light show or the ginormous hexagonal franken-keyboard that dominates the center of the stage, with members of the band hovering around it like worker bees to the queen -- what was surprising was the level of depth and emotion that poured out of lead singer Andrew Wyatt on songs like “God Help This Divorce” and opening encore number “Sans Soleil.” His voice has been the toehold Miike Snow detractors love to dig in, because at times it’s not as strong as the material itself or the other musicians around him. For a number of songs on Wednesday he stepped away from the overwhelming number of onstage keyboards and cradled the microphone, engaging the audience with open bloody emotions in what was supposed to be a dance party. Miike Snow continues to make dance music that depressed people can comfortably enjoy (‘sans soleil’ is French for ‘no sun’ in case they’re being too subtle), because no one’s beating you over the head with sunshiney pop-crap lyrics. Tonight may not be a good, good night, but it’s going to be one you can dance your sad little ass off to.
The other two members of Miike Snow are the writing/production team Bloodshy & Avant, who have written for pop queens like Britney Spears, but don't hold that against them - you've probably done some pretty embarrassing things in your past, too, but you never won a Grammy for them. Their production skills were clearly on display Wednesday night, and the lovely rendition of “Sans Soleil” had them pumping in tons of recorded material from their keyboards, while the bells in that song were put down by an extra tour percussionist, coming across crisp and clear in a show that was otherwise awash in sea of noise. Aaaaaaand then, they played “Animal” to close out, and everyone’s head exploded. Obviously.
The show may have been missing a bit of spark we were all anticipating, and the mostly young, mostly male crowd didn't seem to know what to do to with some of the softer material, but when you break it all down Miike Snow proved that they can’t be pigeon-holed into the dance pop genre -- they may actually be an indie/emo band with really, really good beats, disguised as a flashy electropop band. If you stripped away their synthesizers and all the flashing lights and masks and hoodies and stage craft, you’d still be left with something that would work just fine played on an acoustic guitar in a coffee shop, an uncommon feat for a band whose music is so closely tied to the dance floor.