As crew of thenewno2 sextet set up on The Vic Theater’s stage Friday night, which was enveloped by pink tubular lights, the great room and overlapping balcony were already under siege by excited fans. And if you remember the cover design of last year’s “thefearofmissingout,” you’ll recognize the eerie phantom-like plastic masks distributed to the front row — on the cover, they rested over the faces of business men wearing identical suits. That event was the only predictable thing that happened in the set.
Dhani Harrison announced that thenewno2 would be performing some experimental music. He loves Chicago — the band picked up a loyal following playing Lollapalooza — and stated that he felt at home enough here to toy with the set list. What followed was a support set which drew heavily from that second album, included a few from their debut and EPs and some distinctive coloring outside the lines.
The band is the blissful brainchild of a talented LA/London contingent who can program fat ambience, score films like the recent Beautiful Creatures and devise racy riffs and trippy harmonies. Songs flowed in and out of each other like borderless, intoxicating landscapes.
Harrison, who writes or co-writes much of the material and sings lead vocals has an intense and absorbing voice. Not a screamer or belter — more Robin Hitchcock mellow than turbulent Robert Plant — the charismatic multi-instrumentalist can raise his voice to a fever pitch, but he never abuses his God-given instrument.
Sprinting from surface to surface, electric guitar still swinging when he ran to play the synth, Harrison clearly enjoyed playing a wrenching solo or a heavily rhythmic pop tune on a ukulele. Even in the somewhat dim glow of the theater, the band’s charisma shone through.
Jon Sadoff, Chicago native, skillfully doubled on keys and guitar and Jeremy Faccone, Nick Fyffe, Frank Zummo and Aaron Older performed equally well in arrangements that, while flowing and dreamlike, required copious concentration, jungle drumming and resilience.
“So Vain” from their debut was fused with jazz and pop fragrance. “Time Zone” from their recently released Deluxe version of fearofmissingout featured Harrison’s full-bodied uke plus maracas and swirls of ambience. “Wide Awake” was a more experimental tune.
“Station” featured minimalist keys and the emphatic “Yomp” from their debut had a space age sensibility. “Make It Home” is an uplifting highly evolved song. The theme evoked an amazing visual journey on the video of the same name. There, Harrison’s character encounters a weird universe where he gets torpedoed by flickering, disturbing lights and pirouetting skeletons. The ethereal key riff makes a tight hook over which Harrison criss crosses his plaintive vocals.
Reactions to the experimental music was mixed. Some of the older crowd didn’t understand the flow or the form of the genre. But many of the younger set admired thenewno2’s bold sonic brush stokes and the expansive nature of the sampling.