I’ll be honest: when I hear the genres “house,” “techno,” or “dance” being used to describe a band, I picture a couple of dudes posturing behind laptops. But when The Juan MacLean took the stage at Union Pool on Thursday, I knew this show would be different. John MacLean, the core of the project, immediately put to use a theremin attached to his keyboard stand. Nancy Whang, of LCD Soundsystem, gripped the mic and sang brooding vocals, over endless synths and a beat by a drummer, who, though seriously overworked, never seemed to tire.
Apparently, MacLean decided after the first song that we weren’t dancing enough. “It’s very Thursday night in here,” he taunted the crowd, who countered with whistles and shouts. “It’s a very thirsty night in here,” Whang shot back, chugging a water bottle. The group had recently played three nights at the Cameo gallery, and on their first of three shows at Union Pool, they weren’t satisfied with just easing into their set, or letting the audience do so either.
Whang played percussion with a serious, stony look on her face. It never wavered, even when hitting a springy, rattling instrument earned her cheers. “That was a vibraslap,” she deadpanned, to more cheers. When she and Maclean began to trade vocal lines on “One Day,” it felt like at any minute the band was going to break into “Don’t You Want Me Baby”– they had all of the epic synths and a tense, emotional performance that had the whole room dancing as hard as they could, but none of the song’s cheesiness. And, no laptops.
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