Porter Robinson Brings His World to the Shrine

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Credit: Timothy Norris, LAWeekly

This past Saturday, Porter Robinson brought his Worlds Tour to the Shrine. His recent music has taken on a distinct confidence, and from the opening of his performance, it was clear he did not intend to hold back. I didn’t recognize his opening song - perhaps an unreleased production - but it veered towards a hard, rock & roll style. When it climaxed into the Japanese vocal chops from album standout “Flicker”, I knew we were in store for something special.

The grand, two-tier design of the show brought additional character to the historic venue, and Porter augmented the expansive space by using confetti and pyrotechnics to full effect from the first drop onward. From the middle of the pit, if you took your eyes off the sensory visuals for a second, you would see yourself surrounded by joyous ravers: not just dancing around you, but huddling towards the railings for a better view from the balconies above. It’s this signature venue design, where the crowd can feel astoundingly big but each individual’s connection to the music and each other can feel so intimate, that makes the Shrine so wonderful. Unfortunately, the Shrine’s sound isn’t its best attribute: there were times during the performance that I wished I could hear the details in the treble with more clarity. The show also suffered from poor ventilation and high temperatures. Still, the excitement of the Shrine trumped these concerns with the steam and sound, which was good enough that you could vibe to it.

The production design behind the Worlds tour was impressive. Porter has described the Japanese anime and gaming inspired background for his visual direction extensively in interviews, and it really shone through during the performance. Emoji symbols and anime characters recurred throughout, blending with diverse environments ranging from skyscraper-studded skylines (unmistakably evocative of Tokyo) that captured the staggering scale of the modern city to mosaics of pixellated smartphone screens, green landscapes, and brilliant skyboxes that felt culled from games like Super Smash Bros and BioShock Infinite. I really appreciated the command-line text boxes that would pop up like error prompts, typing out the lyrics when Vocaloid-synthesized voices were singing. Even the show’s interplay with the audience was imaginative. At one point early in the performance, when Porter was singing "Sad Machine", the visual assault dimmed down to a forlorn-looking girl with her back turned to the audience and towards the stage, and you could feel the audience following along. As her synthetic voice grew in tamdem with Porter's, and she multiplied and her copies moved faster towards the center of the stage, similarly the audience’s anticipation grew towards Porter’s enormous climax. Later in the show, a metronomic bleep accompanied a small white circle blinking in the center of the background, imploring the audience wordlessly to clap along. He kept the style novel to his own tastes and included lighthearted characters like the flying blue porpoise-looking animal from the “Easy” video. The cinematic tone established through Porter’s music videos made a deep impact on the show’s visuals.

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Credit: Jeanette Hernandez, LAMusicBlog

These visuals meshed well with Porter’s overall demeanor as a performer. Robinson’s stage presence is muted and understated. Even as he croons with passion into the microphone, banging on his drum pads, moving with haste to keep the music flowing, he recedes into the background of the hypersensory visuals around him. His physical performance felt like an anchor, keeping the booming energy around him focused.

The music that Porter performed stuck heavily to the direction he established with Worlds, the debut album he released this year. It seemed at times that he was disavowing his complextro past. He played re-edits of staples from his early discography that ditched the frenetic drops for slower, more deliberate payoffs. “Say My Name”, for example, kept its boisterous melodic build-up but hit its catharsis with a paced progressive drop that basked in each note of the melody. Nowhere was this shift in Porter’s style more apparent than when he played “Fellow Feeling” from his album. The song’s orchestral opening breaks down into sharp noise while the vocalist implores the listener to “hear what I hear” before diverging into an extreme, overblown drop that goes hard but feels compressed of all emotion. This is the closest Porter gets to his Spitfire days during the whole performance, and he bridges between this drop and the next build-up with lyrics that very clearly state his opinion on the subject: “Let me explain / This ugliness, this cruelty, this repulsiveness / It will all die out / And now, I cry out for all that is beautiful.” That next build seems to hint at Porter’s intended direction, combining the production techniques of complextro with the visceral beauty of the orchestra. This shift in his music may come as a disappointment to longtime Porterheads who miss the bangers of his earlier days, but I can still hear the distinct voice of Porter Robinson’s production underlying his new style, and I am personally excited to see where he continues to go.

At the end of the show, Porter came out for an encore and spoke to the audience openly for the first time (until this point, his only personal interactions with the crowd were simple thank-yous between tracks). Seemingly humbled by his quick rise and grateful to his fans, he closed the show with the one glaring omission from his catalog -  “Language”, the 2012 hit that started this whole new phase in Porter’s career.

Overall, there was a rejuvenating energy around Porter Robinson’s performance and the crowd's response to it.   Some notable names in EDM culture were in attendance as well, with Arty, Dillon Francis, and Kill the Noise all being seen in the soundbooth.  I’m certain that the Worlds tour will have an impact on live show design in the future.