In concert at Gasa Gasa, Dent May's affection for The Beach Boys was kept in check.
Let's get it out of the way — Dent May sounds a lot like the Beach Boys.
It's an easy talking point for his latest record Warm Blanket, which disco dances along the edge between influence and imitation. It may be a bad thing for some, and for many it's the most notable fact about the album.
Dent May's live show at Gasa Gasa Friday night gave enough reason to shut up about the Beach Boys comparison. Openers Pope and Native America upped the energy to a level that seemed out of Dent May's breezy, funky beach reach, but during the first song, as May realized his guitar wasn't coming through the speakers, he grabbed the mic and went somewhere else. It was quickly apparent May wasn't The Beach Boys obsessed misfit the press sometimes makes him out to be, but a confident, passionate performer. He crooned through highs and lows, trading looks of pure joy with anguish followed by cool apathy.
His confidence wouldn't have worked so well without the music behind it. May and his touring band keep each song tightly woven, bringing out the relentless dance beats often overshadowed by the Brian Wilson-esque vocal delivery on the record. Songs started out with those simple but indelible grooves, only to be interrupted by thrashing guitars and bass — a perfect balance allowing May's songwriting craft to shine just as much as his raw energy. What sometimes seemed like imitation on Warm Blanket made more sense on stage. May isn't lifting the past and plopping it down into the 2010s. Pop's past is his foundation, and his songs escalate the classics into smooth yet unrefined pop funk.
That energy balance slipped a few times, with some slower moments feeling too jarring compared to straight-up stomps like album's single "Born Too Late." But the moments of fine-tuned balance were just too good to forget about while the slower songs trudged along. What seemed like a simple beat would soon reveal itself complex, with polyphonics buzzing about in the atmosphere of guitar upstrokes and bouncy synths. The keyboard is where May takes some chances experimentally on Warm Blanket, so it was essential to hear the keys prominent in the live mix.
Credit goes to May's supporting band for keeping composure while letting loose enough to get the crowd going. Songs felt overwhelming without becoming obnoxious, maintaining a simplicity uninterrupted by sounds falling in and out of orbit. May seems like part of the crowd as he sings about not being able to pay rent, making it even easier for a young audience to engage. Where Warm Blanket saw May trying just a little bit too hard, his stage presence asserts not only confidence but earnest self-expression. There were no tears on the dance floor, but May takes his sunburned '70s pop somewhere rarer. May shows anyone who's ever pejoratively called him derivative the makings of a truly unique artist — a human being playing music that feels just as much as it moves.