There’s nothing like the Greek Theatre on a fall night during a full moon. The outdoor amphitheater is nestled in the tall verdant foliage of Griffith Park, giving you the feeling of being somewhere completely outside of LA. This show also happened to fall on the night of October’s full Hunter Moon, so the venue was awash in cool moonlight that reflected onto the pines hugging the perimeter.
First up was the night’s opener, Twin Shadow, the stage name of George Lewis Jr.
Twin Shadow’s music defies genre, which is part of its appeal. It’s been described using the modern catch-all of “synth pop” but the combination of keyboard, electric guitar and bass allowed the group (Lewis was joined onstage by frequently tour collaborators Alejandro Aranda and Wynne Bennett) to meander from very synth-heavy hits like “Brace”, to the throwback guitar-heavy jam “Saturdays”, featuring HAIM, to hip-hop infused tracks like, “In Cold Blood” featuring alt-j and Pusha T.
Lewis, who got into an accident on his tour bus in 2015 that nearly destroyed his hand and required multiple reconstructive surgeries, takes his music seriously. During the time it was healing, he dutifully regained his strength while playing guitar, and now, three years later, he’s able to jam for a full set, and boy, does he wail on that guitar. Closing out the set with early hit, “Castles in the Snow”, he left the crowd wanting more.
Soon, it was time for the night’s headliner, BØRNS. BØRNS (real name Garrett Borns) is a Michigan native who has been making music since he was a kid. At 10, he considered himself a “professional magician” and was getting paid to perform illusions at kids’ birthday parties, so it’s clear that he’s always been a performer at heart. He has the air of someone who has been creating a persona for a long time, evidenced in his gender-bending hippie-meets-normcore-meets-young-Elton-John vibe. This look is not an accident — it’s a careful amalgamation of trends, remixed to commercial indie perfection.
This was a particularly interesting night to see BØRNS perform. It’s no secret that he’s currently pulling his way out of a tangled web of sexual misconduct allegations that have come to light in the last few weeks (which has also resulted in several music festivals pulling him from their lineups). I’ve read the accounts and followed the murky, winding path of #ExposingBorns Instagram hashtags and subtweets. While I staunchly adhere to the #believesurvivors ideology, this is a tough one. I wasn’t there, in the rooms where these things happened, and for that reason I’ll abstain from making a judgement. What I can say is that most young women have had experiences like the ones detailed in BØRNS’ accusers’ accounts. At one time in my life, I was that 17 year old, infatuated with a megalomaniac musician (but weren’t we all?) and I remember the highs and lows of feeling my heart yanked around while my hormones raged. Those emotions are big and so whatever happened, my heart goes out to the young women coming forward.
With all of this in mind, I arrived at the show curious about who this guy really was. And so, when he walked onstage in a bedazzled, personalized tracksuit, complete with micro mini running shorts that… ahem, don’t hide what’s underneath, a V-neck that swept well below his bony collar bone, and a “Borns” nameplate necklace a la Carrie Bradshaw, I can’t say I wasn’t surprised. Long, sinewy, pale legs jutted from underneath said track shorts, giving him the appearance of a prepubescent kid in his middle school P.E. class, and shoulder-length wavy brown hair fell into his eyes. This… was the guy who had been the object of so much adoration, obsession, and turmoil for these young women? Listen, there’s a long and storied history of androgynous male rock stars like Marc Bolan, David Bowie and Mick Jagger, all of whom were idolized by women, so BØRNS’ feminine vibe isn’t too shocking, but as he irreverently hopped around the stage, I couldn’t help but see him more as a mischievous woodland sprite than a heartbreaker.
My thoughts were immediately drowned out by the earth-shattering wave of screams coming from behind me, all of which belonged to young women. Girls against the guardrail shrieked, “Yes, Daddy!” and “I love you Garrett!” while another threw a bouquet of sunflowers to him. He caught it and replied “Thanks, boo” in a remarkably high-pitched whisper, carrying it around with him during the set’s opener, “Past Lives.”
The stage was papered with an iridescent glitter covering, as was his piano. BØRNS performed “Holy Ghost”, during which he draped himself across said glitter piano and coquettishly threw a hand across his chest, “Faded Heart”, “I Don’t Want U Back”, (which was tough not to read into), “Supernatural”, “We Don’t Care”, “Blue Madonna”, and “Bye-bye Darling” before launching into a personal arrangement of Elton John’s “Yellow Brick Road” and “Benny and the Jets.” From there, he transitioned into the pop-heavy “Seeing Stars”, asking everyone to take their cell phones out to create the illusion of stars. It felt a little hokey, but the effect was cool.
Interestingly, just before launching into his mega-hit “10,000 Emerald Pools”, he mumbled, “well, we have to play this one,” which could have either been a nod to the fans or a grudging acceptance that he’s still best known for one radio hit. Hard to tell. He closed out the set with newer single, “American Money”, and then “Man”, “Fool”, “Clouds”, and finally “Sweet Dreams”. For the encore, he returned to give the crowd a cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” (he knows who his influences are, I’ll give him that), and then lastly, “Electric Love”.
In a lot of ways, I left the Greek more confused than when I’d arrived, but on the drive home, it occured to me that music is meant to push our boundaries, force us to check in with our emotions, and allow us to explore parts of ourselves buried deep in layers of repression. At the same time, we’re living in a world in which separating the artists from the art they make is necessary to enjoy a lot of the things we like (Annie Hall? Louie?). Is it an excuse? I don’t know. But I do know that rolling down the windows and speeding through Griffith Park on my way home, the full moon at my back and “Past Lives” roaring through my car’s speakers, I felt acutely alive and full of feelings.
Words and photos by Stephanie Varela Rheingold