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Prinze George and Julietta @ Johnny Brenda’s.

August 22, 2016

prinzegeorge (12 of 13)Text by Chris Zakorchemny. Images by Grace Dickinson.

As man-buns and boutique fashion sense became an unspoken theme of the night at Johnny Brenda’s, it felt like a synthesis of the cultural shift that has been underway in Fishtown. As the venue/bar prepares to celebrate their 10th anniversary, it still stands as a bastion to an area that is seemingly losing and gaining it’s identity at once.

Similarly at a crossroads is the allure of romantic synth-pop bands in the same vein of the Drive soundtrack. Johnny Brenda’s hosted two of those bands: Brooklyn-based Julietta and Prinze George (above). Both produce music that could easily serve as montage music for long, beautiful shots of Ryan Gosling’s face as he stares down the streets of L.A. But when the very song that probably sparked a genre moment is in a Chrysler ad with Jim Gaffigan, it’s usually a signal that what is commercially acceptable can now be replicated with ease.

The challenge these bands face – just by virtue of playing non-aggressive synth-driven music – is to push a boundary with pretty clear markers. Clear enough for Chrysler and clear enough to ignore in the background.

Julietta are more the R&B side of head-nodding synth pop that Wet have explored, and hearing “Conquest” in person sounded every bit the breakout hit it’s worth being. Even as a four-piece, their sound came across just as full as Prinze George, who used a backing track throughout their set. Although Julietta’s sound rarely veered outside of the realm of a pulsing ballad (save for their inspired cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black”), they did seem to hit stride later in their set on “Nightmare,” which alternates between hums of synths and high piano notes.

By the end of the set, a good number of the crowd had created a semi-circle around the stage, perhaps five steps back. It was almost as if everyone agreed they were entranced enough to take in the music but not enough to get really close to it.

When Prinze George took the stage, the crowd inched closer. Their hits “Upswing” and “Victor” drew woos and smooth body sways from the crowd, but every time they presented something that didn’t seem to flow on a consistent beat, the crowd seemed to grow more enthusiastic.

During the second half of their set, “Move It” stood out, if just that for the first minute, there were no drums. Similarly, “Lights Burn Out” felt a bit “Trancendentalism” by Death Cab for Cutie for how stripped down and emotional the words were (now that you could hear them clearly).

When called for an encore, the trio returned to the stage with “Windows,” another song bared down to it’s essentials. Without a backing track it almost felt impromptu, and a step above the tracks draped in overabundant production.

Both bands beckon the question that if you dress up a song to sound pretty, does the song at it’s core still hold up as something worth your attention? Both bands answered the call.

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