At high-energy OK Go concert, all cannons firing

June 23, 2011

If you’d never had the pleasure of seeing the waggish power-pop-punk-etc. quartet OK Go play, you might’ve been bemused to find the ushers at the Kennedy Center handing you a pair of 3-D glasses along with your program Thursday night.

But people who’ve seen this band — and the many, many more who’ve taken in their wildly inventive videos for songs such as 2005’s “Here It Goes Again,” which was a sensation in the early days of YouTube, or last year’s “This Too Shall Pass” — know that these funny, imaginative guys always give a little extra. Actually, a lot extra. Maybe even too much. But we’ll get to that.

To celebrate the 14th anniversary of its Millennium Stage program, presenting a free concert every day of the year, the Kennedy Center called in local-boy-done-good Damian Kulash. Though the charismatic 35-year-old OK Go frontman no longer hangs his purple suit here, he grew up in the District, a bit of autobiography he shared early and often during the ebullient 80-minute concert. Just hearing a loud rock band play at full club volume in the Concert Hall’s august environs brought a subversive thrill, more than enough to compensate for the fact that a malfunctioning video projector stymied whatever stunt the group had planned with the 3-D glasses. (They were the old, pre-“Avatar” kind, with the red-and-blue cellophane lenses guaranteed to induce an instant headache.) Kulash sounded almost forlorn saying, “The video’s not here and not in 3-D, but here’s the song.” The song? “White Knuckles,” an OK Go original that sounds like a better Prince song than Prince has written in 15 years.

But the group’s other stunts were fully intact. The gig closely echoed OK Go’s performance at the 9:30 Club 13 months ago, with nothing reduced but the price: The confetti cannons opened fire as the group lit into the opening chords of “Do What You Want” and kept blasting throughout the show. (Less confetti would’ve been just fine.) As at the club, the group again donned sport coats with electronic message boards sewn into the back. Kulash again wandered out into the audience to stand atop an instrument case while strumming a solo acoustic version of “Last Leaf.”

But at least one gimmick — seemingly the most labor-intensive one, and the one that produced the most beautiful result — was new. Last time they came through town, the foursome performed a number entirely on hand bells. Pulling on white gloves, they reprised this trick, but with a different, more suitable song: the heartbroken lament “Return.” The room’s paneled walls reverberated the golden tones of those bells and Kulash’s aching voice as he moaned, “We were supposed to grow old.” You didn’t need 3-D glasses to get a chill from that.

Opening the show was another outfit that has found success via YouTube, the San Francisco indie-alt-jazz duo Pomplamoose. Their nine-song, 35-minute set rippled with generous, possibly cancerous levels of cute. Performing with three additional players, the group opened with what sounded like novelty versions of Beyonce’s smash “Single Ladies,” and it did Lady Gaga’s “Telephone,” too. But better than either of those was Pomplamoose’s version of the Chordettes’ 1954 pop ballad “Mr. Sandman.”

Klimek is a freelance writer.

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