If the University of South Carolina marketing department was wise, they would have had a slew of cameras capturing footage of Chaz Bundick (Class of 2009), a.k.a Toro y Moi, taking the Music Farm Columbia stage this past Wednesday.
Not only is Bundick himself one of those irresistible success stories that colleges love to repeat--the beginnings of Toro y Moi were planted during his years enrolled at the school, and he’s skyrocketed in the music world since he graduated and released his debut LP Causers of This in 2010--but there were other reasons to trumpet this moment. After all, the Music Farm sits mere blocks away from campus, and it’s ushered in a wave of concerts over this past year that could sway hip college kids to attend, emphasizing the cosmopolitan nature of Columbia and the opportunities afforded here that, say, that school down the road in the Upstate cannot. Plus, although Bundick now resides in Berkeley, California, he has consistently noted his South Carolina roots, taking local bands on tour with him in the region and helping out in various ways, including offering a tune for a benefit compilation for Fork & Spoon’s Aaron Graves battle with cancer and producing (and releasing on his imprint) singer/songwriter Keath Mead’s debut.
And, if they had had those cameras, they might have noticed that, in the range of colors splashed onto the indeterminate black lines that served as a backdrop, there were briefly moments when garnet appeared, giving the effect of the band playing behind a USC logo.
All carping aside though, the show was excellent. Keath Mead opened up with his soaring, 70s-inspired melodies and guitar jams. Stripped of the warm, reverb-laden production of the record, Mead and his band felt almost from another era, in the best way possible. While the set got a bit soggy with ballads in its midsection, they opened and closed with some rockers that had the rather sizable crowd agreeably bobbing their heads.
Still, they were clearly stoked to see their hometown heroes return. In addition to Bundick, the live version of Toro y Moi features a host of familiar faces from Columbia’s music scene, including guitarist Jordan Blackmon, drummer Andy Woodward, and bassist Patrick Jeffords, with only recently added keyboardist Anthony Ferraro foreign to the Palmetto state. The band is ridiculously tight and quite adept at transforming the funky, synth-laden pop tunes that Bundick usually crafts alone in the studio into immersive, sweaty workouts, but it was hard to deny the impact of the more rock-oriented (and excellent) recent LP What For? had on the show. Tracks like “Empty Nesters” and “Half Dome” saw Bundick pick up an electric guitar for the first time in Toro, giving long-time fans a glimmer of his days The Heist & the Accomplice and Taxi Chaps while at the same time giving his sets a more varied sense of room to rise and fall, live and breathe.
Bundick, always a shy presence on stage, seemed to find energy in the shifts between guitar and his array of keyboards, and his voice was in fine form throughout. The addition of yet another album to his catalog also seems to offer his live shows, for the first time, a true greatest hits feel. Only the choicest cuts from his earlier efforts made appearances as the group delved deeply into the new material. Highlights included the giddy power-pop blast of the aforementioned “Empty Nesters,” the Michael Jackson-esque jam “New Beat,” and the rippling one-two punch of the encore of “So Many Details” and “Say That,” two of the best tracks off of 2o13's Anything in Return.
In truth, though, it was hard to note exceptional moments in such a consummately professional show that also managed to revel so much in the slinky grooves that are indelible from Bundick’s output. It was difficult to stop moving for the nearly 90 minute set that Toro y Moi threw down, and I’d bet not a single soul left unhappy.
Here’s hoping the presence of the Music Farm Columbia with get Bundick and company back here more often now. -Kyle Petersen