SAN FRANCISCO — Having made the jump from producer to songwriter with his debut album, Superdream, Big Wild headlined his largest Bay Area show Saturday at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Musician Jackson Stell‘s latest batch of songs beg to be played live. Stell informs his detailed beats with relatable stories from his own life. This gave his performance a personal appeal.
Combining disco, indie pop, chill electronica and even alt-R&B, the Massachusetts-born musician has effectively capitalized on his stylistic expansion. That’s why “Maker” can nod toward classic house music and the mid-tempo “6’s to 9’s” can find its footing in sensual soul. Big Wild used intuitive vocal harmonies and catchy chord progressions as glue for its genre-hopping.
While still very much based in computer music, Stell managed to contextualize his work to suit a live band. Whether it was stand-up electronic drum kits, or live bas and drums, the extra musicians brought Superdream to life with organic chemistry.
This past album cycle has been the culmination of many changes in Stell’s life, from moving to the Bay Area and then Oregon, writing his first album and playing Outside Lands last summer.
The fact Stell never fancied himself a singer until he began work on Superdream seemed unbelievable at Saturday’s show. His ability as a frontman was evident. He knew when to let his backing tracks do their work and when to take over with live playing. He had the humility of a producer working behind the scenes, as well as the charisma of a chart-topping pop star.
Big Wild’s light show took on a life of its own, but the band relied less on running around the stage, and more on staying in tune with one another within a swirling vortex of neon color.
It’s not for no reason that Big Wild has Evan Giia and Ark Patrol on tour with hin. The former has a similar mixture of lush production and pop songwriting, while Ark Patrol embodied Stell’s roots as a remixer and electronic dance music producer. It showed his respect for his new contemporaries, as well as those who carry the torch.
— Max Heilman
Follow photographer Joaquin Cabello at Instagram.com/joaquinxcabello.