“Dance with me and shake your bones”: Tei Shi and Glass Animals at the Bowery Ballroom
Brooklyn-based Tei Shi and British band Glass Animals played a sold-out show at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom on Monday, July 7th. Tei Shi, who opened the evening, collaborated with Glass Animals on their track “Holiest,” a lush, expressive song that highlighted her vocal range and unique style, which uses layering and looping to create complex, organic harmonies that complement Glass Animals’ experimental sounds. Her set, which included songs from her EP Saudade as well as new works, revealed that she has both immense talent and the stage presence to go along with it. Tei Shi’s set was my favorite part of the evening, as her music created a spellbinding, intimate experience. I would have happily listened to her all night, and I look forward to the day when I have the opportunity to see her headlining.
Tei Shi’s accompaniment on stage–guitar, keyboard, and percussion–provided the backdrop for her hypnotic vocals. While many of her songs start slow, building up into a sweeping crescendo of softly layered vocals, songs like “Nevermind the End,” from Saudade, used her band to their fullest and most pleasurable effect as her clear, sultry voice was thrown into relief by harsh, grungy synth, lo-fi guitar sounds, and a pervasive, energetic beat.
Tei Shi has the rare ability to create and inhabit a variety of moods and then invite the listener into the experience of a particular emotional state. One example of this was the largely a cappella “Adder(f)all,” also from Saudade, which seductively invited the audience to “Please fall with me.” The ability to create this degree of intimacy in performance is a rare skill. Of course, a relationship always exists between performers and their audiences, but while the experience of the fan at a show is typically a deeply personal one, artists themselves often create personas for their performances that can increase the distance between musician and listener. The experience of listening to Tei Shi was especially notable because both her songs and her performance opened a space for intimate connection. With “heart-shaped birthmark,” in particular, she brought the private experience of wanting to exist for and within a lover (“I want to be your starlight in the darkest hour, / I want to feed you love and give you all my fire, / . . . I want to taste you when the sweetness turns to sour”) to the audience with a sensuality and grace that held nothing back.
Tei Shi, who admitted that the venue was the largest so far in her career, was especially charming because of the fact that she seems to be unaware of the full power of her presence. For most of the show, she moved gracefully across the stage and confidently controlled her own looping, but at moments she stopped to address the audience, obviously both humbled and excited to be performing at the Ballroom. Dressed in an elegant outfit that highlighted her willowy figure, she was arresting as she moved sinuously across the stage. Although she may not have realized it, she had the ability to fill up the room with her energy and presence, ensuring that we were hanging onto every sound.
After Tei Shi had primed us to be fully invested in the evening’s experiences, Glass Animals played an experimental, deeply satisfying set that included the sexy, strange grooves of their most popular song, “Gooey” as well as other fan favorites and new material. The band members themselves, like the music they play, defy easy classification. Lead singer and guitarist Edmund Irwin, who reminded me a bit of Matt Smith’s iteration of Dr. Who, possessed a stage presence that was alternately alluring and slightly uncomfortable (to great effect). There was no invitation to meld into the performance as Tei Shi’s set had offered, but the music created its own links with the crowd, which swayed reflexively to the music.
The enigmatic quality of the notoriously private band fits with their unique and at times unsettling sound, which is often so successful precisely because it plays with our assumptions about the definitions, expectations, and boundaries of musical composition. This goal was clear at the very beginning of the set, when the band members walked onstage and began creating sounds that might have come out of a horror film.
While accessibility is clearly not on the list of Glass Animals’ priorities, the music they create possesses an infectious quality that had everyone moving. While songs like “Gooey” might confound analysis (“peanut butter vibes”?) they have an undeniable sensuality that connects the music to the earthy sexiness of some hip-hop and dance tracks (I’m thinking dubstep rather than psy-trance here).
The Bowery Ballroom was an impressive venue not just in terms of its size, its highly attentive staff, and its elegant décor, but also because of the behind-the-scenes skill of the sound and light crews. Both Tei Shi and Glass Animals sounded amazingly clear and resonant, adding to the overall intimacy of the performances. The lighting was also exceptionally done, complementing the acts rather than being either over- or underwhelming. Color fades, spirals, and other visual effects enhanced the experience of the music.
The Ballroom itself has two floors, and the actual venue comprises the second floor and the balcony level above it. A lounge below houses one of three bars as well as bathrooms. The balcony level provided a great view of all of the performers and the audience itself, which was packed from the stage all the way to the bar on the back wall. There were also a few tables available on the balcony, as well as two alcove seating areas with comfortable padded benches, tables, and chandeliers that could be closed off for privacy (one was reserved for Tei Shi, the other was open). I also enjoyed the set-up of the soundboard, which was housed in a closed-off area just below and in sight of the balcony level. Merch was a bit out of sight, out of mind, sold from a table at the bottom of one of two staircases leading up to the second floor and the stage.
My one complaint about the evening (besides the fact that I wish both Tei Shi and Glass Animals had played longer!) is the single-song encore Glass Animals played when they returned to the stage for “Puddles.” I admit I don’t understand encores in general and would much rather a band not leave the stage if they know they’re going to return to it, and coming back to play only one song seems like a bit of a tease. Plus, it gave the shrill group of fans beside me the opportunity to scream at the top of their lungs for a few more painful minutes.
It was Glass Animals’ first time playing in New York, and I suspect it won’t be their last. Because of the quality of the bands and the venue, this was one of the best shows I’ve been to. I look forward to seeing both bands again, and I’m particularly excited to see the trajectory of the ethereal Tei Shi over the course of the next few years.