Jenn Champion drenches Bootleg Bar in surprising synthpop

If you knew Jenn Champion in any of her previous iterations, as part of defunct Seattle chamber pop act Carissa’s Wierd or the sparse arrangements on her last solo record Cool Choices as S, you might have been surprised by her current synthpop sound.

Jenn Champion released Single Rider on July 13 via Hardly Art, and it is absolutely drenched in ’90s-sounding synths. But even more surprising, is this is music that makes you want to dance. You can’t help but tap your feet and bob your head.

Jenn Champion brought Single Rider to a live audience at the Bootleg Bar on Thursday night, focusing on the new record rather than revisiting old tunes. Arriving on stage in all white except for a pair of yellow and blue sneakers, Champion was flanked by her two bandmates in all black. All three wore hats with “CHAMP” emblazoned across the front.

They kicked into “Mainline”, a song that kicks off the way I would expect a Flume tune to begin. Champion’s delicate whisper were a wonderful contrast to the vibrant synths and light show that accompanied the song.

The song “Holding On” is the one that I’ve listened to more than a dozen times since seeing the show. The backup vocals from Champion’s female bandmate were really strong and added depth. “Coming For You” has an almost recent-era M83 feel to it.

Many of the songs had samples that were activated by a drum pad. “Bleed” starts that way, with a strong piano melody that puts the focus on Champion’s excellent and bleak songwriting. “And I will need your hands on me / And I will bleed till I can’t bleed / Tell me it’s alright / Tell me when it’s all over / And we can all be free,” she sings in the chorus. Afterwards, she shared the story about how the song was written while she was watching the show Nashville. “Is this what it’s like in Nashville?” she asked.

It wasn’t quite a packed crowd Thursday night but it was an attentive one. People stood mesmerized by her voice, which softens the blows the lyrics in her songs dish out on the regular. For the latter half of the show, she was joined on stage by interpretive dancers. If you had seen her as S a few years ago, you would have never expected her live show to reach this level. But it went perfectly with her newfound pop sound.

Her encore included one throwback song to her time as S, the tune “Brunch”. It featured Champion solo with a guitar, and it made it all the more clear her back catalog doesn’t gel quite as much with her new material. It also made that one song stand out all the more, with its melancholy lyrics and simple guitar.

Single Rider saw Jenn Champion take risks musically and it was only fitting that she took some risks in the live performance. It added up to a memorable show in LA, her first since becoming a resident of the area.

UPDATE: Jenn Champion has been added as support for the upcoming We Were Promised Jetpacks show at the El Rey Theatre on Thursday, October 11! Tickets are just $22.00 — get them now!

Words by Mark Ortega
Photos by Betsy Martinez