By Josh Herwitt //
When the Twilight Concert Series announced the artist lineup for its 32nd edition this spring, it was safe to say that KCRW had curated one of its best rosters to date. In the last few years, the NPR member station on the campus of Santa Monica College has undoubtedly upped its game, booking buzz-worthy acts from a wide variety of musical genres for 10 straight weeks starting in July. From reggae and soul to Latin and disco, live music at the Santa Monica Pier on Thursday nights has become a summer staple in Los Angeles.
But in all my years attending the Twilight Concert Series’ shows, never have I seen the Santa Monica Pier like it was last Thursday when I arrived with more than an hour to spare before BØRNS’ headlining set. The concert viewing area, for one, was already at maximum capacity, forcing security and local law enforcement to block the main entrance and not allow anyone else in. The problem for me was, the only way to reach the media check-in tent to receive my credentials was through the same entry point into the concert. I won’t get into the details of how I had to obtain my credentials for the show, but let’s just say it was far from ideal and required plenty of patience. After all, they say patience is a virtue, right?
On this night, that proverbial phrase seemingly rang true. It wasn’t just that BØRNS most likely amassed the largest attendance in the history of the Twilight Concert Series, but also the fact that it was easily one of the best shows I’ve ever witnessed at the Santa Monica Pier. One could certainly point to the opening of the Expo Line extension as a reason for the larger crowds so far this summer, which wasn’t all that noticeable during the series’ opening night with Mayer Hawthorne (read our review of the show here) just the week prior, but that would simply be underestimating the exponential rise of Garrett Borns’ eponymous project. Since he relocated to Los Angeles in 2013 and signed with Interscope Records, the Michigan native has gone from supporting modest indie bands like MisterWives to selling out shows as a headliner in a matter of a year.
While much of BØRNS’ ascent can be attributed to the commercial success of his 2015 debut studio album Dopamine, which peaked at No. 24 on the U.S. Billboard 200, he can also thank Taylor Swift for getting the word out there fairly early. The pop superstar gave his first single “Electric Love” a ringing endorsement on her Instagram account well over a year ago, and 723,000 likes later, the 24-year-old has continued to grow his fan base with subsequent hits like “The Emotion” and “10,000 Emerald Pools”.
At the Santa Monica Pier, BØRNS only performed the latter of those two songs while playing almost all of his 11-track LP from front to back. But it was the covers he doled out that really stole the show, winning the hearts of first-timers like myself and even more dedicated fans who knew what to expect from “Garrett the Great” as he once called himself. Starting with The Smith’s “Shoplifters of the World Unite” and taking things up a notch with Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” minutes later, he did justice to both songs, hitting the high notes in the midst of Sir Elton’s chart-topping smash with relative ease. Yet, as part of a three-song encore that opened with Dopamine cut “Clouds”, it was the last two offerings of the night that proved to be just as thrilling to hear from a songwriter with plenty of promise.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more important indie-rock band over the past decade than Arcade Fire, and not many contemporary artists have been bold enough to cover their work (the most recent one that comes to mind is Father John Misty’s rendition of “The Suburbs”). BØRNS, nevertheless, wasn’t afraid to take on one of Win Butler and company’s earliest hits, pumping the crowd full of energy for the final hurrah during “Rebellion (Lies)”. Of course, just when I thought I couldn’t be any more surprised by what I had already heard from Mr. Borns, the long-haired, bare-chested Midwesterner dropped David Bowie’s “Heroes” on us and somehow managed to give LCD Soundsystem’s cover at Coachella a run for its money. With those kind of chops in your early 20’s, who needs T-Swift’s public approval anyway?
Dug My Heart
Shoplifters of the World Unite (The Smiths cover)
10,000 Emerald Pools
Bennie and the Jets (Elton John cover)
Rebellion (Arcade Fire cover)
Heroes (David Bowie cover)