PHOTOS / RECAP: Lotus @ The National, Richmond, VA 3/15-3/16/13

Photos by: Ross Citrin / Words by: Steve Ledgers

Lotus’ Richmond run at the National was a total smack in the face, a chilling epiphany, and I blame the second night for being the arbiter of truth. It struck me dumb, shook my core, and then softly rolled over my heart. But that’s the thing we fans search and live for, the thing we travel hundreds of miles to experience. That thing is a beautiful and vibrational moment, where we are reminded of just how much we truly don’t know. And after raging two nights at the National, I’ve never been happier to be humiliated.

On first arriving in the city, I had the usual expectations that come with tour openers, the anxious sense something great would go down, something powerful–something magical. But I was scared. I don’t like those kinds of feelings. If they’re too strong, they set me up for disappointment, and I hate feeling disappointed. Yet sometimes, bands raise the bar and create such a standard, the disappointment unfortunately becomes justified, because you’ve seen what they are capable of, you’ve seen them surprise you senseless, and that standard serves as a point of reference throughout any fan’s live-music career.

The first night struggled to live up to my sometimes irrational expectations. It consisted of a lot of Lotus’ new material from the freshly released album, Build, which focuses more on structure and composition, incorporating electronic and progressive rock elements, and is vastly different from their previously defined improvisational style of exploration and loose, yet vivid soundscapes.

Now, though I do enjoy some of the new songs, I just can’t seem to get into most of them. They are great in terms of reeling a crowd in, providing a sustainable emotional experience, which they undoubtedly succeed in doing, but they lack the organic feel Lotus once embodied, sounding more like Lotus is trying to do a certain amount of things in a certain amount of space, as if they need to get the crowd from point A to point B, in a mathematically constructed way, instead of simply playing from the heart.

This has nothing to do with me being attached to an older sound or era. No, not at all. I am all for a band evolving, trying new things, walking different paths, because the process is relatable. The evolution reflects life, for we are all on similar paths, searching for answers and purpose and identity. And that is the one aspect of Lotus I will always love–their willingness to explore who they are as a band.

With that said, the Friday night had its moments for me, the second set being strong. The show just didn’t feel comfortable, and rather felt more rigid, the improvisation safe and calculated. Highlights include, ‘Shimmer n Out > Slow Cookin’ > We Are Now Connected,’ and the second set, from ‘Debris’ until they closed, the ‘Hammerstrike’ being a great note to leave on. For anyone getting the soundboard, in terms of new material, I’d focus on listening to ‘Debris,’ and ‘Neon Tubes.’ Both were great versions of these newer tracks, and ‘Debris’ rocked me solid.

Saturday night, however, was the show we all came for. It was a show where, I feel, Lotus decided to be themselves. And this idea has nothing to do with the set list, but has everything to do with what they achieved as a band on stage that night. To put it into perspective, I have to relay something that happened to me earlier that day.

I was sitting with two friends, one a seasoned veteran like myself, and the other a new fan, outside of a little hidden away coffee shop in the northwestern part of Richmond. The setting there was made up of mostly brick homes, apartment complexes, and small businesses. It was a gorgeous afternoon. The sun burned in a clear sky, while a cool, soothing breeze blew continuously. We were discussing the previous night’s show, since I was taking notes, attempting to gather my thoughts for this recap. We then began comparing Lotus’ previous direction to their new one, weighing the pros and cons of each.

The one thing that we all agreed on, regardless of our differences in opinion, which conflicted, for sure, was that their improvisation seemed to be lacking the heart it once had, that carefree and casual reflection of their personality. With the latest sound, Lotus seems to have buried their identity, or maybe suppressed it, as if they were focusing too much on controlling the music, trying to be something they are not, spending time worrying about what’s at the end of the tunnel and how to get there, rather than letting go and expressing themselves through music, content with being where they are on stage, where they are in their sound, wherever, or whatever, that may be. This focus sometimes mechanized the jams, made them feel rushed, forced even, as if they were simply doing so to please a certain demographic in the crowd, when, I feel, they should be playing to please themselves. Maybe, in a sense, they are, for they’re creating material they want to play, but it’s originating from an image that is not them as a band. And for a while, I don’t think they were having as much fun as they used to. Sure, they would smile and act like professionals, but deep down, I knew they weren’t having fun, could feel it in my heart.

And heart is what the second night at the National in Richmond contained, through and through.

I had walked into the venue that night with thoughts from the coffee shop discussion still floating about–words and observations that said Lotus wasn’t putting everything into their improvisation, that they were too focused on sounding electronic and progressive, too focused on controlling the music, the crowd.

From start to finish, Lotus was in the zone, locked into just playing music. Christ, ‘Juggernaut’ was sixteen minutes long. They were having fun. Every single one of them had a smile for the better part of the show. Rempel was even dancing at one point, something I have never seen him do. Lotus was feeling the music, was deep in it, and wasn’t so worried about where they were going with their sound. They were relaxed, cool, confident they would get wherever they needed to, while staying purposeful–a complete and full combination of what I feel to be the different styles they have explored. It was absolutely breath taking.

None of what I experienced had anything to do with the set list. It wasn’t because of the ‘Expired Slang’ throw-back, or the ‘Sid > Suitcases,’ or the ‘L’immueble > Spiritualize,’ or the rest of the second set for that matter, let alone the ‘Three Legged Workhorse’ encore. No, it was because they were loving life. They were being themselves. And this fact is richly evident in the jam that came out of ‘Juggernaut,’ which touched upon sounds they’ve never ever produced, and every note played was tasteful. Nothing was mechanical or rushed or forced. It almost sounded as if they were simply guiding the frequencies and vibrations and energies that they had at their disposal, making plenty of room for it to pulsate and move and fluctuate, just trying to provide a path for it to walk, instead of attempting to harness it to fit what they thought were their needs.

I remember feeling like I was being dismantled in the first set, then put back together in the second. I remember feeling baffled, speechless, sometimes unable to express myself, save through screaming as my body resonated with the music. I remember feeling alive, in awe at what was happening, more so because I really had no idea what was happening, but I did know, could feel more than ever, deep down, that it was something great, something powerful–something magical. It was a Lotus I’ve never seen before. There I was, having been hyper-critical about their sound earlier that day, so critical in fact, I was beginning to lose faith, standing there after the show, absolutely blown away and dumbfounded. The second night in Richmond altered me, left me displaced, yet whole at the same time, and caused me to fall in love with them all over again.

If you have a chance to see them this tour, drop whatever you’re doing and go rage a show. But be prepared to get rearranged, both spiritually and physically, because they’ve found themselves, and it’s beautifully contagious.