Music review: Glasser at Black Cat

By Mark Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 17, 2010; 12:31 AM

"Ring,'' the debut album by one-woman-band Glasser, is defined by synthetic timbres and sound-recording technology. So before the Los Angeles singer-songwriter performed Monday night, fans packed into the Black Cat's sold-out Backstage might well have wondered how she would adapt her ethereal-meets-industrial style to live performance. The answer, it turned out, was that she barely did.

It's not that Glasser (a.k.a. Cameron Mesirow) simply hit "play.'' Although bits of the music were recorded, most of it was generated live by the singer and her touring band. But the sounds were so heavily processed that they often felt stilted and remote. Reverb layered the singer's filmy soprano into a dance of seven or more veils, and fattened beats ranged from Germanic tekno to faux-gamelan. A battery of effects devices allowed the guitar to alternately growl or chime, and even become a virtual koto for "Glad,'' which sounded more Japanese in its sparer live arrangement.

Wearing a kimono-sleeved red dress that was set off by her backing musicians' matching green jumpsuits, Glasser executed some geisha­like hand movements and a few twitchy twirls. Yet her stage presence was nearly as cold as her music, which emulates Bjork's without that singer's playfulness. Perhaps the chill explains why the crowd thinned noticeably during the set, even though Glasser was onstage for barely 30 minutes. The performance's sheer sonic reach was impressive, but the spirit and spontaneity to distinguish the songs from their recorded versions were lacking.

Opening was Twin Shadow, another one-person studio outfit that has expanded for live performance. Twin Shadow's debut, "Forget,'' is indebted above all to '80s British synth-pop, an influence founder George Lewis downplayed onstage by playing guitar. Such tunes as "Shooting Holes at the Moon'' were successfully transformed into full-band rockers, yet dinky keyboard riffs and Lewis's theatrical vocals kept peskily summoning the ghosts of Human League and Spandau Ballet.

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