It’s been five years since the last Chromatics album, and so much had changed. Stars were born and others burned out, genres and neologisms were invented and pronounced dead, and we had been forced to confront dubstep. But beautiful music was still beautiful music. The Portland band who doesn’t sound like a Portland band released Kill for Love last month, and it is beauty to the core. I was worried I wouldn’t like it, partly because I’m very attached to 2007’s Night Drive, a sort of concept album in which the concept is 4 a.m. post-club anhedonia. Also, because I’ve spent the last five years trying to not to be one of those people who says “their first album is better.” But their second album is the opposite of a slump: taut, airless, glimmering, more so than the first, but still reeking of that familiar desolation. It’s even better in real life, if you can call Le Bain at the Standard under the skyscraper lights “real life.”
The Chromatics are one of those increasingly rare live acts who can transmogrify a distracted room into a single glowing organism. During the set, which spanned forty-some minutes but felt shorter, I didn’t see one person leave to smoke or start texting like there was anything important to say. Then again, I was mostly only looking at Ruth Radelet, who, with her alluring half-shyness and shift dresses looks like the best hopeful at a girl-group audition in ’60s San Francisco. She began a little hesitantly, forgetting to dance, and by the end was loose and shimmery and laughing, and we were with her all the way.
The first song was “Into the Black,” which is also the first (spare, great) song on Kill for Love, but Jonny Jewel and his unmerry band were good enough to their early/older fans to play back the memories between the new stuff. In that warm hermetic room, in a bath of red light, “Night Drive” and “In the City” were more comforting in their anomie than ever. I remembered that someone had once called this music “emo electro” and I had stolen the phrase, finding it perfect. I remembered so many very late nights. Fashion girls danced languorously, a stranger’s skin prickled next to mine, and I wasn’t alone, even though I was standing by myself.
At set’s end, it seemed like the prismatic, shattering live-take of “Kill for Love” would stand as the highlight, but then, the encore came, and of course, because it’s my favorite, or really because it’s every sad city kid’s favorite, they played “Running Up That Hill” from, again, Night Drive. It was thrilling and exquisite and, okay, maybe I’m sorry, but their first album was better? That, or we were younger.