REVIEW: St. Lucia lets its island side loose at The New Parish

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OAKLAND — New York synth pop band St. Lucia has always lived up to its name in philosophy rather than sound. The quintet exudes a carefree anything-is-possible glow. But on its current “Intimate & Acoustic Tour,” supporting a new EP of reimagined songs, St. Lucia at times sounded like a group playing tropical and Latin-tinged folk—that is, when Jean-Philip Grobler and his bandmates weren’t experimenting with their jazzier sides.

The show leaned more on the “intimate” than the “acoustic.” All but the show opener, a soft duet between Grobler and Patti Beranek, included at least a couple of electric instruments; primarily, Ross Clark’s bass and Nick Paul’s keyboard. It was that duo’s interplay, as well as drummer Dustin Kaufman’s pace, which propelled the concert forward.

Once Beranek and Grobler took the stage, the frontman explained that the way this tour works is St. Lucia starts with a list of all of its songs the band could play acoustically, rather than a setlist with any order.

“If you have requests, shout them,” he said.

The duo opened with “Paper Heart,” from the band’s 2012 debut EP. Grobler’s sparse melody was sinuously connected with Beranek’s soft harmonizing as the room began to grow quiet.

While the band may not have been taking requests, the show had a very loose feel. In fact, it felt similar to watching the band soundcheck. After the rest of the band took the stage, another song from the first EP, “The Old House Is Gone,” followed. Paul’s rhythmic, woozy keyboard and Grobler’s voice rode atop light percussion. A third from the same record, “Before the Dive,” was a full-fledged rock song with driving bass, frolicking piano and emphatic acoustic guitar playing by Grobler.

St. Lucia’s new EP includes a cover of The 1975’s “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME.” The band broke out its  samba-beat version, showing off its experimental side and proving that not all The 1975 songs have to use the same reverb and chorus effects pedals to work.

“Winds of Change,” off 2016’s Matter, came next and was performed as a wistful guitar-led ballad. The band followed that with a jazzy combination of “The Way You Remember Me” (off 2013’s When The Night) and “Love Somebody,” from Matter. The latter song included both the English and Portuguese versions, and Beranek sang lead on the Portuguese version. The uptempo “Closer Than This” was performed similarly to the 2013 album version, minus the electric guitar.

The end of the first half of the set was a cover of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” which retained the charm of the original but again added some island tendencies and was capped by Clark’s nimble bass playing. The song transitioned to “Wait for Love” and “Bigger,” the opener of the band’s most recent LP, 2018’s Hyperion. The song was another highlight, with Paul attacking his keyboard.

A sped-up rendition of “Tokyo,” from the new album, led to “Walking Away,” which devolved (evolved?) into an extended jazz jam led by Paul and Clark. The diversion, performed for laughs, was the farthest away from St. Lucia’s sound that the band stepped. But it was also extremely interesting, especially considering the context of the other material.

That set up one of the best pop songs of the last decade. Beranek explained how the concept of St. Lucia materialized after Grobler (now her husband) sent her a demo of “All Eyes On You.” The grandiose song (which Coldplay would have undoubtedly loved to write) was stripped down to its fundamental guitar melody. Grobler performed this on one of his acoustic guitars and harmonized with Beranek as the rest of the band slowly joined in.

St. Lucia finished the show with two upbeat tunes: “Dancing On Glass” and (possibly) “The Night Comes Again.” The band will return to the Bay Area next fall, opening for Carly Rae Jepsen at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.

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