Words and photos by Ronny Kerr
If you only know The Internet through their critically acclaimed 2015 album Ego Death, you might expect their live performance to be short, simple, and devoted to the hits. But their show at the Independent in San Francisco on Sunday went differently.
Performing a couple dozen tunes over nearly two hours, The Internet made sure to play the majority of the songs from their best-known album, but they didn’t stop there. They also broke down the band into its separate parts, giving special and individual love to guitarist Steve Lacy, keyboardist Matt Martian, bassist Patrick Paige II, drummer Chris Smith, and, of course, singer Syd tha Kyd. It makes sense: Steve, Matt, and Syd all just released solo albums, and Patrick and Chris have new projects in the works.
Lights down, the full band took the stage—except for frontwoman Syd—sinking into the slow groove of “Special Affair." Syd followed right behind, high and vibing in a dark hoodie as she lulled the sold out crowd with her melodious, cooing voice. Then came “Under Control,” another favorite from Ego Death. Clearly, they knew their audience. They started, ended, and interpolated the set with the hits, keeping everyone patient and open to the individual members’ sets.
Aside from Syd, the entire band wore sunglasses, but when Steve Lacy took the spotlight he eventually showed us his eyes—a motif the other members would follow as they each took their turn.
Steve first stepped into “Ryd,” a song from his new Steve Lacy Demo, all lovely harmonies cruising over the smooth, buttery chords of his Rickenbacker. With his T-shirt tucked into his cargo pants and a Britney-esque headset wrapping his jawbone, he could’ve been leading a seminar on small business accounting. But instead he glided across the stage, channeling some weird combination of Nile Rodgers, Sly Stone, Ariel Pink, and Weezer to win over the audience.
After Steve’s fourth song (“Dark Red”), Syd set a stool on the stage and then the two searched the audience for a birthday girl. After ruling out a few fakers, they brought a fan onstage and gave her the stool to sit on. There she sat awkwardly sipping her beer and smiling enormously while Steve serenaded her with “Some,” the sexy, closing track from his Demo.
The first micro-set complete, Syd assumed center stage for “Gabby” (another one from Ego Death) before passing the spotlight to Matt Martians, a founding member of Odd Future (like Syd) and The Internet’s keyboardist. He started with “Diamond in da Ruff,” “What Love Is,” and “Southern Isolation,” three tracks from his new album The Drum Chord Theory. Though maybe not as polished a vocalist as Syd or even Steve, Matt seemed an A-plus student from the school of Stevie Wonder, emanating suavity and strength.
After a brief dip into Ego Death for the latter half of “Somthing’s Missing” (where he provided both production skills and vocals), Matt closed his set with “Dent Jusay,” a newer song featuring Syd and Steve.
When Syd took center stage again, she sang a soft ballad before passing the torch to bassist Patrick Paige II. He swung the bass behind his back and rapped some touching poetry for his sister. Then the band’s other rhythmist, drummer Chris Smith, captivated the crowd with a massive drum solo reminiscent of Flying Lotus’ darkest moments.
Everyone in the band had had their moment except for Syd. After another two songs from Ego Death (“Just Sayin” and “Girl”), she walked through several songs from her debut solo album, Fin. Oddly, despite the love overflowing for Syd in the crowd, this micro-set seemed the most out of place. Besides personnel, the one thread binding Ego Death, Steve Lacy’s Demo, and Matt's Drum Chord Theory comes down to live instrumentation. Those are human voices, human hands, human hearts doling out those heaping helpings of soul.
But Fin, with exceptions like Steve’s dreamy strings on “Dollar Bills,” sets Syd’s vocals atop the massive electronic beats characterizing hip hop in the 2010s. Sometimes Patrick would still pluck his bass, but usually only to accent the deep sub-bass that no piece of wood and metal could ever muster (without digital assistance). In fact, the highlight of Syd’s portion of the night came at the end of “Insecurities“ (the final song on Fin), when basked in purple glow Patrick unraveled a beautiful bass solo. This isn’t to indict Syd’s new album. It’s just that digital-powered pop didn’t perfectly align with the night’s celebration of live funk, soul, hip hop, and R&B.
Ironically, Syd’s Fin set wasn’t the end. Instead, they closed with the opening track on Ego Death (“Get Away”). Reinterpreted as a heavy metal funk jam, that finale suggested the night’s larger theme: The Internet can’t help creating works of wonder, mixing influences, and encouraging each other’s best ideas.