The New Deal Take Music Hall of Williamsburg on Wild Two-Set RideMarch 25th, 2016
The New Deal – Music Hall of Williamsburg – March 24, 2016
The New Deal have long been a connoisseur’s choice among lovers of jamtronica, beloved for their chops, sonic inventiveness and forward-thinking jams that go places, not just vamp for hours on top of an endless untz-untz and a trippy light show. That they’ve been back at it for about two years now—and have just released a new studio album, Mercury Switch, for the first time in more than a decade—makes it easy to forget that for a while, the New Deal had hung it up, convinced the tide of production-heavy EDM performers and celebrity DJs were cropping out their more organic approach to highly danceable, marvelously textured improvisation. Instead, something more interesting happened: Jamie Shields and Dan Kurtz, along with 2014 recruit Joel Stouffer, returned to find EDM, electropop and the jam worlds in, well, if not harmony, an agreeable balance, such that the New Deal’s nearly faultless live show draws from each in nearly equal measure. The trio corral electro-shocked house, techno, dance rock, breakbeat and drum-and-bass and make them forcefully whole in such a way that would just as easily fit the vibes and crowds of Bonnaroo or Jam Cruise as as Electric Daisy Carnival or Coachella.
By the time the New Deal came on at Music Hall of Williamsburg last night, it was suitably late, and Shields, Kurtz and Stouffer didn’t so much settle in as they got down to business right away, teasing a series of layered keyboard sounds, rumbling bass and drums and percussion that caromed right into a highly danceable groove. It was as much fun to watch them work as it was to listen. In part, you got a light show filled, on this night, with penetrating green and purple beams arranged in a series of morphing lattice patterns. In part you also got the three principals, arranged more as a row of pods conjoined to one another—Shields in a fortress of keyboards stage right, Kurtz in the middle and Stouffer angled behind the tricked-out drum kit stage left—such that the members looked more like they were manning the weapons against TIE fighters than playing in a band.
Set list? Hmm. There were a number of thoroughly explored passages through New Deal cuts old (“Technobeam”) and new (“Mercury Switch” and “Quattro,” both off of the new album), plus a wide range of melodic and sonic textures over two potent sets. But for the New Deal, set list is kind of beside the point. Song beginnings don’t so much elicit pogo-ing crowd reactions as do peaks in the jams: EDM-style drops, soaring flights of keyboard, slippery-slap bass, drums that throttle. The New Deal are as at home in a world of wobbly notes and reverb as they are in gnarly dance rock, synth-studded techno or straight-up breakbeat. You drive, fly or swim down the dark tunnels with them and somewhere along the way—10 minutes? 20? 30?—you’re deposited at the bottom of the chute, laughing and thoroughly spent. —Chad Berndtson | @cberndtson