Local Current Blog

Review: Purity Ring pounded, glowed, and drifted during two First Avenue shows

Photos by Emmet Kowler for MPR

Before this week, I’d never been to two concerts on the same day before, much less two concerts by the same band. But on a first-time-for-everything Tuesday, June 9, I got to see two Purity Ring performances. During both the 5:00 and 9:30 p.m. shows, visitors to First Avenue’s Mainroom enjoyed the music, nodding along with the electronic duo—comprising singer Megan James and instrumentalist Corin Roddick—and their fellow Canadian bands, Born Gold and BRAIDS.

Actually, I caught Purity Ring’s full show (openers and all) during the first First Avenue slot, and I came back later just for the headliners. The 58-minute set did not change much after dark—in fact, the methodical feeling was my main qualm with the concert—but overall, Purity Ring gave two good shows.

The highlight of the whole concert, and something that deserves mention right away, was the astonishing stage design and prop use. On the left and right sides of the stage, forests of white vines were hung with bulbs spaced a couple of inches apart. In the middle, Roddick commanded an electronic apparatus as well as several “crystals” that glowed at the touch. “Sea Castle” featured a nine-pronged set-up of small spotlights that James tapped in time, using custom-made gloves to reflect the light beams toward the audience; and during “Dust Hymn,” James climbed a ladder behind Roddick and hit an immense moon like a gong.

The audience appreciated the show, to be sure, but I heard them commenting more about the props than the music. It’s true that there wasn’t much else noteworthy in terms of performance, since James kept a low-key stage presence and interacted with the audience only three times during each concert—plus a bonus, “Thank you, Minneapolis, thank you!” during the late show. She made some enigmatic performance choices; she turned her back on the crowd during every song and kept slowly crossing the stage, drifting through the clusters of light-up vines.

When she did interact with the crowd, James stuck to breathy exclamations and giggled a lot. When one fan called out for “Begin Again,” the excellent single from 2015’s “Another Eternity,” she responded with a teasing, “Later.” During the second show, she paused to tell a story about singing her hair: “So today, I was getting ready. And I always burn a candle when I’m getting ready. And I totally, burnt, like, up to here!” Aside from those bright moments, her conversation with the audience felt routine.

Even though Purity Ring are almost on alt-J’s level of hard-to-parse lyrics, the dedicated late crowd knew the words to “Fineshrine” and “Push Pull.” With a crowd stuffed back to the bar, the Mainroom nodded along with “Heartsigh” and collectively throbbed to “Flood On The Floor.” Before the first show’s “Begin Again,” James said, “We don’t do encores, so if you like encores, this is your encore.” Later on, she stuck with, “We have one more song.”

Apparently, the lack of band/audience charisma that Andrea Swensson pointed out in her 2012 piece on Purity Ring’s turn in the Mainroom hasn’t yet been remedied. However, James and Roddick are touring behind even better music now. Also, their Twin Cities fanbase is still on the rise, demanding not just one Mainroom show, but two. It’s wonderful that they keep producing great material; now, it’s just the music’s performance that could use work.

Canadian trio Born Gold opened with an electropop set like steel wool: abrasive and shiny at once. Frontman Cecil Frena’s wails and crazy kicks kept energy high, and he delivered the line of the night with, “We’re a Canadian band, and in the tradition of Céline Dion, Bryan Adams, and Drake…we’re gonna play a power ballad.” Also, little-known fact: both members of Purity Ring were part of Born Gold years ago, back when it went under the name Gobble Gobble. Years later, the bond between bands still seems strong.

Second act BRAIDS did the very best they could. Due to “suffering from pneumonia and laryngitis” (as singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston put it), the band had to cancel their June 4 and 5 Montreal and Burlington, VT sets, respectively. In Minneapolis, they seemed better and sounded good, but Standell-Preston still appeared dazed for most of the night. A few times, she broke out of her own atmosphere when hitting high notes, which sounded fantastic and earned cheers from the crowd. Nevertheless, fans of the band would have been better served going to one of the five previous appearances BRAIDS have made in the Cities, most of them in the 7th St Entry.

Born Gold

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Purity Ring

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Writer Cecilia Johnson is studying English and Spanish at Hamline University. Her favorite things include sashimi, Shakira, and bookshelves. Photographer Emmet Kowler is a student at the University of Minnesota—Morris.