When an otherwise mild-mannered performer wants to misbehave, they take on a pseudonym. Think Eminem, Ziggy Stardust, or Chris Gaines. But not Matthew Dear. He's got it backwards. The New York City-based DJ and producer has a record-crate full of aliases -- Audion, False, and Jabberjaw -- under which he releases bleep-and-bloop-heavy electronic dance music. It's good stuff, but relatively benign.
The freaky sounds come out under his real name.
Tuesday night at U St. Music Hall, Dear performed a little over an hour's worth of material, much of it drawn from his 2010 solo record, "Black City." This is Dear at his sleaziest -- weaving soulful pop hooks into a haze of alien textures and disembodied voices. There's an omnipresent sense of paranoia and moral ambiguity. Abstract mechanical clatter is re-cast into funky, pulsing, rhythms. If Prince spent a weekend at a steampunk convention, he might have produced something like "Black City."
Freed from the turntables, it turns out that Dear can work a stage. Backed up by a three piece band -- drums, trumpet, and bass, with a laptop blasting programmed beats -- he bobbed and slid across the floor, perfectly channeling David Byrne's brand of art-school voodoo.
But it took a while for Dear to loosen the bolts on the crowd's hips, even though it was a relatively packed house. He's just too weird to warm up to quickly. In performance, Dear's voice is heavily effected -- giving him a deep, digital-sounding, baritone. When he whispers into the mic, it tingles the same nerves as a killer's phone call during a spooky movie.
And his hottest, sweatiest, dance-floor shaking moments tend to come with a subversive wink, usually in the form of mood-skewering lyrics. "Run away/ I'm a monkey/ frozen in my monkey dream," he sang on "Monkey." The epic "Little People (Black City)" cycled through 10-minutes of moods swings -- from lush synthesizer-driven romance, to skeletal machine-funk -- but at its emotional crest, the audience swaying along, Dear's desires got kind of creepy-crawly. "Love me like a clown," he chanted.