Arriving at the Catalyst Monday night, a place I have struggled for air let alone space to dance, I was thankful to see a moderate sized turn out. The venue took on a new atmosphere with the comfortable not compacted situation. The few that did make it to the show were obvious die-hard fans and for good reason.
Originally from New Orleans and a Hurricane Katrina survivor, Pell is not the typical sound we hear coming out of that region. He works with more electronic beats switching vocally, as he says, from “affectionate wordsmith to hook-smashing crooner”. He comes across aggressive not because of a violent nature but because of the strength in his intelligent, passionate statements line after line. Pushing the boundaries of the current popular trap / dubby sound, Pell’s foundation is more rhythmic and more ambient. This new trip-pop dreamscape to sonics of rap had the crowd floating.
Trash bag backdrop? I know he is an artist on the rise (aka slightly unknown) but when I first saw the backing of the stage covered with trash bags I was slightly disappointed with the stage design. A judgment I quickly learned I had made too soon. The house lights drop, followed by the stage lighting. The fog begins to rise and a familiar melody rings through. You can hear and feel the energy of the crowd growing as everyone rushes closer to the stage. The melody continues as three simple strips of light on top of those awful trash bags transformed the backdrop into a beautiful mountain range lit in alternating colors, shifting along with music cues. This, to me, a huge reflection of the creativity Pell possesses. Trash bags converted into entertaining staging just as his lyrical content of ordinary circumstance is transformed into a much larger picture. He doesn’t rap about anything obscure but of everyday, relatable events that he weaves effortlessly into works of depth.
He promptly greets the crowd after the first song and welcomes them closer to the stage as if inviting them into his living room. He is automatically likeable, approachable and genuine. The initially timid crowd is stomach to stage three songs in. From the side of the stage you can see almost everyone’s mouths moving in unison, singing the words in between smiles. An intoxicating positive energy is definitely one of Pell’s distinctive qualities. He also spent a generous amount of time thanking the other artist on tour with him. We were all introduced to “Bill” the one man band backing Pell. Bill switched between a track pad, keys and guitar throughout the show.
Aside from one or two female vocals featured on his albums Pell sings all his own “hooks” / melodies. He sounds great on the recordings however I was blown away at how much better his singing was live. He was extremely dynamic, sometimes moving into a falsetto range comfortably and subtly used his talent for runs without over-embellishing.
Something else you don’t often see at the all ages Atrium shows is people willing to opt out of drinking in the distanced bar area in order to be closer to the performer. This was the enticing effect Pell had on his audience. It was as if he was performing and speaking to the individual as opposed to the masses. This is most definitely a show worth catching next time around.
- Review and photography by Jessica Carr