By Savvas Savvinidis
The last time I was at the State Theatre in downtown St. Petersburg, Cannibal Corpse was on the stage. I had a cold. This was in 2010. Tonight, I’m here to see Robert DeLong, a recently emerged artist in the EDM scene. Or maybe it’s dance-pop. You could call it indie-dance-pop, if you really wanted to.
Since his first EP under Glassnote Records in 2012, DeLong, a Washington native residing in San Francisco, has fully engaged the dance music scene, touring small venues and music festivals alike. If you listen to the radio or are slightly cognizant of sounds which happen around or near you, you’ve probably heard some of his music; the single Don’t Wait Up, from his most recent album In The Cards, has had significant airplay, reaching the Top 25 on alternative radio charting at #24.
As soon as I walk up to the State Theatre, I observe the line, which snakes around the corner and contains varied audience. Most of the crowd is between 14 and 30. There are young professionals, collegiate scholars, a gaunt teenager in a doge mask, high school kids who are probably much cooler than I was at that age, and a peculiar pack of impassioned 8th grade girls heading the line. (They clearly got here first, have been here for some time, and strike me as dropouts from the Justin Bieber camp, eager for something fresh and with a little more depth.)
That’s most of the crowd. Peppered throughout this long line are some folks who could be my parents, or even my parents’ parents.
The doors open at 8 PM and the line feeds into the lobby and down to the floor. Wandering around the pit, I notice the concentration of painted faces steadily rising, and then I spot Chris and Kimi, the culprits sporting flashlights and face paint. Chris and Kimi, both from Inverness, are frequenters at Robert DeLong’s performances, providing a healthy amount of facial decor to any who request it. Here I am, having forgotten to shave.
Opening tonight are Colours. Going in, I know nothing about them other than their home town of Sarasota. Their stage presence is there before they are, a glowing sign with their stylized band name greeting us for a full hour before the lights go off at 9:03 and the music hits. Colours is a small lineup of drummer Morgan Alley and singer Kyle Tamo. Tamo dances through thick smoke while Alley pounds the drums to pre-rendered tracks. They remind me of Imagine Dragons, both in their drummer-and-singer setup and their intensity.
This is a good appetizer for the audience. By the time the last stragglers let go of their inhibitions and start to move their hips, Colours are ending a quick set and Robert DeLong’s boys are setting up. It is at this point that I hurry down the street for a bahn-mi.
When I get back, the roadies are just about finished, and the layout gets my attention. On stage right, there is what appears to be a fusion of timbales and digital percussion. Next to that is an array of keyboards, pads, synths, and a joystick that could have been ripped out of an Apache cockpit. Then, on stage left, there’s a plain old drum kit. Behind all of this, a Fender telecaster sits mounted on a stand. This looks like the equipment of an eight man band, but it’s just one dude. When Robert DeLong walks up on stage in t-shirt and face paint, the audience roars.
There’s a common complaint from the musically old-fashioned, of which I would consider myself one, that EDM shows are little more than one person hitting “play.” This is true to an extent, with many electronica artists supplementing said lack of performance with visual flair. Of course, the EDM audience, with little exception, cares less for the artist’s performance than they do for their own cathartic, visceral experience, for which you couldn’t really blame them.
With that said, Robert DeLong seems to be responding to these sorts of complaints with a smack in the face, producing pulsating loops live before an audience, layer by layer, constantly moving between consoles and instruments, maintaining a kinetic presence that is only highlighted by his youthful demeanor. He behaves like a rock star, alternately beating on Roland drum pads and screaming livid into one of several microphones, pulsing his body to the rhythm. His passion for the music he makes is evident, even if only for the fact that when he’s in front of you, you forget that there’s only one of him, a boy-faced man alone with his toys.
For the majority of his set, the pit crowd does all manner of movement, twisting and bouncing with hands outstretched holding glowing objects. They only relent when DeLong lets them, like when he takes a breather to single out the kid in the doge mask, or gets up on the edge of the stage and plays balladeer with his guitar.
DeLong’s got gimmicks, not because he has to have them, but because he can. Periodically he sets a song in motion and plants himself on the drum throne to rock out. (His musical origins include drumming for a number of rock and punk acts, and it shows here.) During one number, he grabs hold of that curious Logitech joystick, using it as a pitch bender. Next, he whips out a Wii remote and waves it around in the air. He’s programmed this thing as a midi controller. The blonde girl dancing next to me goes ape-shit at this point.
When it’s all over, nobody is unsatisfied, least of all DeLong, who is quite thankful for his audience, as genuine a guy as he is a musician. There are no chants for an encore; it was a long set, and now, with the paint and rhinestones sliding off their cheeks, it’s time to hit the road. Hell, I’m exhausted, and I mostly just stood around taking pictures.
For the price of admission, seeing Robert DeLong’s audiovisual spectacle is well worth it. I’d strongly advise you to catch this guy next time he’s around, so long as you’re someone who digs electronic music, non-electronic music, fun things, and/or people holding their right arms in the air for an hour and a half without resting. They can all be found here.
Robert DeLong will be appearing at Coachella 2016 in April.