A near-capacity crowd packed the Treefort main stage to watch headliner Toro y Moi jam through a 20-song set, helping to close out another great year for the festival. The show spanned old and new material, demonstrating the incredible flexibility and creativity the project has exhibited from album to album. Regardless of where the band pulled from its discography, however, the audience never stopped dancing, keeping warm as the sun set behind the stage.
Toro y Moi is the project of the absurdly talented Chaz Bear. Its sound can most simply be described as indie pop, but through various releases Bear has drawn on funk, hip hop, dance music and R&B, along with the workings of his own musical imagination. Tracking the artistic evolution from one Toro y Moi album to the next can be dizzying, and the project’s live shows can feel much the same. For his Treefort set, Bear drew heavily on his most recent release, 2019’s funky, hip-hop-influenced “Outer Peace,” as well as 2017’s more 80s-driven “Boo Boo.”
The set kicked off with “Mirage,” a track from “Boo Boo.” The song slowly built around glossy chords from synth player Anthony Ferraro and the funky riffage of bassist Patrick Jeffards, with Bear throwing in squiggly sounds from his own synthesizer at the front of the stage. When Bear began to sing, it became clear his vocals were augmented by autotune, a tool some artists use as a crutch, but Toro y Moi integrates as a creative choice. After the song, Bear called out, “We’re going to get funky tonight!” and the band dove into the airy-yet-groovy “No Show,” immediately making good on the singer’s promise.
Along with his more conventional bandmates, Bear had brought an additional percussionist to the main stage, who played everything from the handshaker to the bongos. The latter of these made their most conspicuous appearance during the third song of the night, the single “Ordinary Pleasure” from album “Outer Peace.” The drums combined with a hard-grooving bass line in a tight and incredibly catchy pattern. Unfortunately, it was one of the few times any of this extra percussion could be heard. Between the rest of the band and the pre-recorded tracks that accompanied them, the weaker sounds just couldn’t carry. While this absence didn’t hold back any songs in a major way, it would have been great to have that added texture.
As the group moved further into their set, they pulled out a few slower songs, spaced in the setlist to create an ideal balance. A standout was “Labyrinth” from “Boo Boo,” a melancholy tune powered by glistening keys and a sighing synthesizer. Another was the trap-influenced “50-50.” With its clipped, autotuned vocals and thudding bass, the song suggested a more pensive Travis Scott, who grew up playing the piano. The group never let things slow down too much, though, always rebounding with another upbeat song to reinvigorate the crowd.
It would be pretty difficult to find fault with the show Toro y Moi put on Sunday night. The band was locked in from start to finish, and the setlist had been finely tuned to ensure every fan would hear something they could really get into. The only real downside of the show was something that is perhaps unavoidable for festival headliners. Depending on where one stood in the crowd, it was possible to be surrounded by people who had little interest in the music, and were inclined to shout at each other through the majority of songs. While not everyone comes to a music festival for the same reasons, it seems reasonable to hope that listening to music is a priority for most attendees. So, it’s a bummer when festival-goers use a live show for the same purposes as a bar: a loud, busy place to be drunk with friends.
Fortunately, when Toro y Moi kicked into their final song, the much-loved “Rose Quartz” from 2013’s “Anything in Return,” most everyone was too busy dancing to chat. The song built layer upon layer of synth, developing into an irresistible groove. As the song grew, Bear began waving his arms side-to-side, and soon a sea of hands were swinging in response. Before the song began, he had warned there wouldn’t be an encore, so fans got as much dancing in as possible before the stage lights came on. When the show ended, there were still a few hours of Treefort left, but one reporter could tell it was time to call it night. Toro y Moi would be a tough act to follow.