When Ernest Greene was touring for his 2013 album Paracosm, he looked intensely uncomfortable. He hid it with the kind of grace and aplomb one might hope for and expect. But when he tried to pump up the crowd during the show it seemed awkward because it is the sort of thing that doesn’t jibe with Greene or his music which, at its best, seems like a manifestation of yearnings, aspirations, resting in one’s personal place of peace, processing one’s experiences in doses that make sense to the human psyche if not to our industrial culture of accelerated expectations of ourselves and others. The music of Washed Out at its heart works best when it remains an invitation to take a break from that grind and take the time to reflect and feel at your own pace and in your own way. Hyping a crowd is the opposite of that type of intimacy. It came across as Greene doing his best to fit in with the indie rock world or a commercial rock world in a way that never really suited him. No surprises, Greene took some serious time off from any album driven touring. In that time it seems that Greene has taken efforts to reconnect with his creativity and his musical instincts.
2017’s Mister Mellow, an obvious nod to where Greene wanted to be and not where he seemed to be a few years ago, is a return to Greene’s roots in making beats with samples and synths and its release on underground hip-hop label Stones Throw is a perfect fit. For the album, and for the tour, Greene worked with Jesse Orrall on putting together the visual side of the album. That visual side on DVD was an entrancing companion to an album that seemed to be Greene’s attempt at self-healing through music and visual art. With song titles like “Burn Out Blues,” “Time Off,” “I’ve Been Daydreaming My Entire Life,” “Hard to Say Goodbye,” “Instant Calm,” “Get Lost,” “Easy Does It” and “Zonked,” Greene isn’t hiding. He’s confessing and tapping into how many of us feel in 2017 with the overtaxing demands of the world around us with not nearly enough of the rewards everyone deserves from being involved in a society and economic system that places not nearly enough value on humans in themselves and their dreams that don’t fit in with program of late stage capitalism.
On August 22, 2017, the Washed Out tour came to Denver at the Ogden Theatre. The show took the images from the DVD of Mister Mellow and rendered it in three dimensions. Greene and his associates made a show that felt like we were getting to see a really unusual and deeply personal and colorful film made by a friend. But a film in the modern, immersive sense with music that synched perfectly with the moving images at a volume that hits the body with all tones but especially the low end. The collage aesthetic of the video is like something you might make to chase away boredom and stimulate your mind by repurposing imagery around you. While not sampling, a similar creative instinct. It was a psychedelic hip-hop/synth pop experience and Greene didn’t indulge the “How are you doing tonight? Are you excited” platitudes of many bands. Bands that probably care but it would have taken us out of the moment and sullied what should be an experience that tries to transcend the usual concert context and conception. If there were technical errors with the set or venue, the show got back on track quickly and kept Greene’s sharing of the deep daydreaming he’s been getting back to over the last handful of years. At worst the Mister Mellow shows are an interesting and ambitious experiment, at their best, a reminder in practice of a better world to come where exercise and stimulation of the imagination are afforded their rightful place in the center of world culture.