Concert Review: Radiation City and Brainstorm

Neon Reverb, Beauty Bar, March 22

This spring’s Neon Reverb promised to be leaner, meaner. The decent-sized audience that gathered in Beauty Bar for some Portland, Oregon, synth-pop initially reflected this by looking malnourished, unfriendly. But once Radiation City emanated its dreamy sound, the vibe brightened. Live, the band is louder, more rockin’ than last year’s Cool Nightmare EP suggests. Indeed, Radiation City no longer imitates a twee-carousel spinning in a room of music boxes. Onstage the quintet—and especially singer-keyboardist Elisabeth Ellison—sounds like mallet-wielding giants set loose in a harmonium shop. Crashing waves of keys and guitar chords reverberated, culminating in huge set-closer “Phantom Lady.”

Up next was Brainstorm, who came to throw a dance party in Vegas. The trio sound-checked forever (OK, 15 minutes), but the effort paid off, and they sounded amazing. In addition to being lethal musicians, each member sings, while harmonizing and trading lyrics over pounding Afro-pop beats and Asian-scaled guitar lines that had people dancing by the second song. Brainstorm’s “Beast in the Sky” was gorgeously monstrous, bassist Dasha Shleyeva’s grooves and drummer Adam Baz’s rhythms terrifyingly tight. Easily among the best Neon Reverb nights I’ve experienced since the festival first lit up Downtown Vegas in 2008. ★★★☆☆

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