WASHINGTON, April 24, 2014 – Eternal Summers is the perfect kind of band to present at a venue like U Street Music Hall. The basement club – which reverses its stage set-up for DJ sets during late nights, normally after live bands have come and gone – casts a lovingly dingy atmosphere.
The Hall offers the kind of atmosphere that feels as if it exists only in a dreamscape or in the camera eye of a perfectly staged music video trying to depict the ‘80s with its constantly smoky vibe. (Although there is rarely any smoke). Frequently, when taking in a band’s performance there, the scene doesn’t quite feel real.
Happily, this meshes with the kind of feelings Eternal Summers inspires whether you see them live or simply listen listening to them via any media format. That’s because the band itself is a bit of a twisting rabbit hole of music, with a sound that has an all-encompassing feel, upon reflection, once their set wraps after a half hour or so. Likely this is the result of what appears to be their propensity to throw in numerous pop affectations, some modern while others are 25 years old or more.
The real key to an Eternal Summers show, as in their recent performance here, is that none of it feels out of place. At various points during their set, they incorporate elements of pop dating back to some of the more iconic ‘80s pop/rock bands that are still held in considerable esteem today. It’s easy to pick up on similarities to the Cure and the Smiths, for example. That’s a timeless pop sound played with the minimal amount of pretension.
The very fact that Eternal Summers is able so easily incorporate the notable high points of previous genre sound into their own demonstrates the kind of seamlessness we’ve come to expect from them. Instead of merely aping a past sound, they encase it within their own version of dream-pop.
When pulling this off, it helps to have Nicole Yun on vocals, although her contribution is not the only place this vital dynamic pops up in the band’s performance. Yun’s vocals are definitively light and airy, but they’re projected with a studied questing sense, as if she’s trying to establish a middle ground between singing directly to the audience or whispering secrets, hints, or suggestions into individual ears.
This is the kind of dynamic that defines most of the band as well. Eternal Summers never feels as if they are directly pitching the audience. Rather, it’s as if they’re activating and filling in the empty space around the crowd. Their sound, at least figuratively, occupies the fringe, existing somewhere in the musical ether.
Even when the band picks up the pace of their selections – something they do quite often – they still seem to project a dream-like state. That isn’t to say that their rhythmic sense is somehow faint or non-existent. Their directness, however, takes a different path. It’s paradoxically all encompassing without being overwhelming.
Coming full circle, that’s precisely why U Street Music Hall plus Eternal Summers feels like the perfect combination of sound and space. When the venue maximizes its best attributes, it doesn’t quite feel like a real place but more of an ideal, almost mystical place. That’s the kind of performance space where Eternal Summers and their unique brand of dream rock feels most at home.