The Rio is an interesting venue for music. The setting is typically a movie theatre or a stage for performance art, and its elevated stage and rows of movie theatre seating make it great for this purpose. Music performance can be a bit of a tradeoff, however, and it really depends on the performing band to determine whether the tradeoff is positive or not.
The thing is, music is usually something that inspires movement; seats are kind of designed to discourage this.
Junip is a dreamy folk band from Sweden that sounds kind of like what you’d get if someone from 1970 found a time machine and travelled to 2013, heard indie rock, and did their best to fit in. Lead singer José González sounds like Neil Young if he never smoked or drank a thing, and the band almost awkwardly overpopulates the stage. Two percussionists, several keyboardists, and a rotating roster of instruments for everyone else gave the band a sort of chaotic festival vibe.
It was surprising then, that the whole thing sounded so thin. While it’s not inaccurate to describe Junip as ‘chill’, they are chill in a tap-your-feet-on-the-dashboard kind of way, not in a think-about-stars kind of way. But even their most danceable songs just sounded lacking. I didn’t feel like I was missing out by sitting down anyway. In fact, when it came to the songs I knew really well, it almost sounded as if they had been rearranged in such a way as to cut away some of the drums and the bass. Maybe it was to make room for all that percussion.
The performance seemed similarly stripped, with the band’s feet apparently glued in place, and José’s words just barely mumbling through his lips. To the band’s credit, the crowd was clearly enjoying themselves. The seats were as empty as they could be, and the narrow space between the stage and the seats was filled with as many people as could fit, and the aisles saw a lot of close-quarters dancing.
Junip moved The Rio, even if I thought they could have moved a bit more themselves.
While Junip seemed perfectly comfortable putting on a rock show to a room of fans reclining on cushioned theatre seats, opening band On and On was clearly meant to perform to a much different crowd.
On and On are a dance-y indie rock band that are as awkward as they are awesome. Their dreamy melodies, harsh digital sound manipulation, tight harmonized choruses and pounding synth beats felt more suited to a small venue than a movie theatre, but they made it work. And they sounded like they definitely used all four members of their band to the fullest, whereas the six-piece that was Junip sounded like they only ever used three at a time.
On and On seemed genuinely excited to be playing – talking, dancing, smiling, and putting on a great show. They had a fantastic light show too, which made being confined to chairs a bit more tolerable.
The Rio is an odd music stage, and both On and On, and Junip did their best to adapt. While each highlighted the venue’s difficulties, both fostered an intimate crowd environment that was fun to be a part of. On and On’s leg of the tour is almost finished – if you’re fortunate enough to catch them, make sure it’s somewhere you can dance.