Pat Grossi aka Active Child put himself on the map with last year’s eye-catching release, You Are All I See. Its unusual mix of ’80s throwback production, lots of harps, and most prominently Grossi’s own choirboy vocal stylings made it one of the more enigmatic releases out of Los Angeles last year. To me, enigmatic is the word that best sums up Active Child’s strengths as well as being the thing that stopped me truly loving the album. For all its grace and grandeur, there was a sense on record of a lack of intimacy, a distance to the effort that left the music feeling hugely impressive rather than moving.
I was very intrigued to see whether the music would pulse with life on the stage in a way that it perhaps did not on record, and casting the live show in a venue as small as the Troubadour certainly did the unassuming Pat Grossi a favor. It is a lot easier to connect with the audience when they are standing a couple of feet from your seat. As he kept his between-song banter to a minimum, Active Child let the music do the talking.
The three-man band opened naturally with the album title track, with layers of strummed harp accompanying the first few notes of Grossi’s voice. That voice remains as impeccably controlled in a live setting, but perhaps lacks the individuality of Justin Vernon from Bon Iver, or Jonsi from Sigur Ros. Grossi’s voice, as it turns out, is probably much better suited to a grander venue after all. For the most part, the set was comprised of the lush, pretty arrangements that made up the record, and again there was the sense that it was not quite as awe-inspiring as it should be.
The irony of all this is that the two best moments of the set were the two when Active Child most obviously stepped away from their trademark sound. “Playing House” is nothing less that straight up R&B, and in that context Grossi’s voice has a desire and feeling to it that sounds really human. It remains the best indication so far of what he is truly capable of when he steps outside his comfort zone. The second highlight was album closer “Johnny Belinda,” which also closed the set before Grossi returned for a brief encore. Here the falsetto was used to service a darker and more insistent tune, and the change of mood gave the song a sense of urgency without resorting to any obvious button pushing.
It is within these two songs that the future of Active Child lies. Pat Grossi is an undoubted talent, and his manner onstage suggests he might not have total confidence in what he is doing yet. He really should though. It may seem unusual to compare him to someone like Gonjasufi, but like that other unique Socal musician, he has a voice that is more versatile than he realizes. I am certainly looking forward to seeing what he comes up with for his next album, and maybe in the future we’ll be seeing this stage show with a few more statues and plenty more dry ice on a bigger stage. Watch this space.
For more information on Active Child, visit his website.