Live review: Active Child at the Middle East Downstairs

Bathed in sunset-pink light, plucking the opening notes of “She Was a Vision” from the strings of a large wooden harp, Active Child‘s Pat Grossi made quite an entrance on the stage of Cambridge, MA’s Middle East Downstairs last night. But it wasn’t until Grossi started singing–his voice two parts choirboy and one part world-weary New Wave singer, not quite sounding like anyone else’s–that a reverential silence seemed to descend over the room.

The two-piece touring band–Grossi and a bass player/keyboardist who also contributed backing vocals–are currently on a string of US dates opening for School of Seven Bells (whose new album Disconnect from Desire is also a recent favorite of mine). Still, like the guy in the front who yelled “I’m here for Active Child!”, I’d really come to the show to experience the unique, emotional soundscapes of a fascinating new artist.

Live, all the elements of Active Child’s sound seemed magnified: the electronic beats and synth washes bigger and more dramatic, the highs and lows of Grossi’s vocals more pronounced. Songs from their recent Curtis Lane EP, like “I’m In Your Church at Night” and the stunning “Wilderness” took on a new intensity. Things took an unpredictable turn when Grossi swapped his harp for a guitar on a distortion-laced cover of Joy Division’s “Ceremony” (which, amusingly, had all of us over-30 folks in the crowd nodding along in recognition). An untitled new song, which Grossi called “a work in progress,” featured beautiful vocal interplay on the chorus, and hints at amazing things to come for the band’s next effort.

Best of all, they closed the (all too short) set with my favorite, “When Your Love is Safe,” a deliciously 80s-influenced ode to apathy and ambiguity. Listen to it below, and then follow this link to get “When Your Love is Safe” as a free MP3.

Active Child – “When Your Love is Safe”:

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— Anna K

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