Washed Out’s dreamy nostalgia infiltrates The Wiltern

Tuesday night, Washed Out brought his stellar live show to The Wiltern.

Getting to The Wiltern early is always a good opportunity to grab a drink and creep on the crowd a little bit. Tonight, the audience is pretty heavily skewed towards young LA eastsiders. No surprise there, but what does catch me off guard is how many people show up early for the night’s opener, a psychedelic synth duo from Joshua Tree called DEGA.

Without exposing myself too much, DEGA’s music feels exactly like doing acid in the desert with your friends as the sun is setting. Like, exactly. Some deep Googling reveals that the band’s members, who in Cher-like fashion, go only by “Aslyn” and “Kalen,” are actually a married couple. Tonight, Aslyn is wearing a full blue-and-white polka dot pajama set. No one bats an eye. The crowd has definitely showed up early for a reason. DEGA’s set is groovy, dreamy, and perfectly in sync with Washed Out’s nostalgia-infused chillwave vibe.

During intermission, a throng of self-aware, well-dressed youths press against the rail for the best view. A very drunk girl in a fringed jacket spills a full beer onto my shoe and doesn’t notice because she’s fighting with her boyfriend. Three kids who I come to find out are in high school almost pant in anticipation. Their parents dropped them off at The Wiltern tonight because they don’t have licenses yet. A mustachioed guy in a black polo shirt closes an open gap in the crowd. The lights dim and everyone presses forward an inch.

Washed Out’s Ernest Greene takes the stage with a keyboardist and a drummer, and when the giant screen behind them lights up, it’s with the Mister Mellow graphic memorabilia of 70s youth – a happy face clock, a television, yellow dice. Greene remains backlit for the rest of his set, preferring semi-shrouded anonymity to bright lights. He tells the crowd this is the first time he’s played a venue in LA in 3 or 4 years.

Washed Out’s new music — off their third album Mister Mellow — is both more beat-and-sample-heavy than their previous albums. “Burn Out Blues” has a very Royksopp feel to it, and “Time Out” utilizes a slowed-down, slurred man’s voice, layered on top of bossanova beats to convey the feeling of a warped memory, lost in time. I’m surprised by the depth and complexity of the new work, even though their first two albums are some of my favorite music.

This music reminds me of a very specific time in my life. Falling in love via playlists, daydreaming on a train as it whirs past the countryside of another country. As Greene breaks into “Amor Fati” off Within and Without, it occurs to me that I’m probably not unique in this feeling. This music feels tailor-made to break through the jaded walls of young people dying to connect with one another. It’s like letting an ocean of pastel colors wash over you. Like a really good dream you can only sort of remember. Like a crush you used to have that only brings back fond memories. The crowd isn’t dancing, per se, but they seem to be hypnotically swaying en masse.

Greene wraps up the set with “Feel It All Around” which is familiar to everyone because of its use as the opening titles song for Portlandia. It’s classic Washed Out. Dreamy, summer-inspired, synthy, and delicious. It’s the musical equivalent of eating a dripping popsicle. I realize that as I exit The Wiltern I almost feel like I’m floating out into the night.

Words and photos by Stephanie Varela Rheingold