Rewards were half-finished when my friend and I entered the sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg this chilly Thursday night, and when we began watching their set, I was glad I hadn't enrolled in the program. The electronic post-punk/new wave-dipped act is basically the brainchild of former Chairlift member Aaron Pfenning, but with a suit proper and way too much flair on stage, I wasn't feeling it. The others filling out his band, which included a guy from Lightspeed Champion, seemed modest enough. And they were all quite friendly, with Pfenning deliberately exchanging personal dialogue with people in the audience. But his forcibly raspy, lower-register delivery and overwrought gestures were too much for my liking--which was disappointing, since the stuff he had on MySpace had seemed promising.
Warpaint then took to the stage and it was a definite treat. Like plenty others, presumably, I hadn't even heard of the six-year-old band until their single "Undertow" hit the (satellite) airwaves. The song led me to check out their surprisingly far darker album in question, The Fool, and roped me in quickly with its incredibly desolate blend of '80s post-punk, '90s alternative and then-some influence. So I was gracious for the opportunity to see the band so soon after its release and my conceived fandom.
Let's get the one complaint out of the way first: I was a little disappointed with song choice. About half their set came from the band's pre-hype EP, Exquisite Corpse, which is good, but nowhere near as fluid and realized as The Fool. I thus didn't get to hear them try and recapture the breathtaking saunter of album opener "Set Your Arms Down," or "Baby," the latter of which probably would have provided an excellent textural and lyrical dynamic to the set.
However, despite an imperfect set list, the performance was spot on. The all-girl quartet were subtly sultry and proved adept at the songs' casual variances, through the jaunty jig of "Composure" (a moment where it finally seemed appropriate for the audience to dance in response) to the snarling plow of their band title track, "Warpaint." Naturally, "Undertow" got raucous cheers when its simple, familiar strum came through. All the while, the light guy cast the perfect colors (black light, but not blacklight, if that makes any sense) over them while the band recounted the nascent themes of their early stuff and personal distresses of the more recent LP, with plenty of energy, charisma and movement respective to the four of them.
Drummer Stella Mozgawa deserves her own paragraph, though. She was an absolute beast. She lent an expert hand to the band's common pattern of taut, tense builds, slamming away with a ferocity and precision I don't often see. She looked a little exhausted by the time the band had made it through an extended version of "Beetles," which is seven minutes on record but about 11 this night.
But the end to "Burgundy" (the EP's original closer when the band self-released it in 2008) was particularly earth-shaking, ridden with an intensely deafening wave of feedback that made it feel like a test to withstand. The show from the night prior at the Studio at Webster Hall was imaginably more intimate, certainly, but who knows if it could have survived the aural onslaught that had just happened here.
Set list (11:23-12:14):