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Innovative duo Purity Ring performs the sounds of tomorrow at KC’s Uptown

Megan James, lead singer for Purity Ring performed Wednesday, Oct. 26, at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City.
Megan James, lead singer for Purity Ring performed Wednesday, Oct. 26, at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City. Special to the Star

If Wednesday’s concert at the Uptown Theater was a harbinger of the future of pop, coming generations will be richly entertained.

Purity Ring, the Canadian duo of Megan James and Corin Roddick, gave a convincing one-hour exhibition of innovative electronic pop for a cheerful audience of more than 900.

Faithful renditions of 16 beat-heavy selections from the duo’s two albums were supplemented by an astonishing light show. Dozens of long strands of lights and an arsenal of more conventional lighting equipment created an imaginative array of effects that simulated fireworks and storms. The set occasionally resembled a big-budget animated movie.

Roddick was stationed at a podium adorned with beat-pads shaped like Chinese lanterns that illuminated when struck. An outer garment akin to a gauzy lab coat that James wore as she sang the first several songs caused her to look like a descendent of Victor Frankenstein. She and Roddick are adept musical alchemists who have successfully devised strangely appealing new sounds.

Purity Ring didn’t devise its admirably fresh approach entirely from scratch. “Lofticries” scrambled the revolutionary ideas of the late hip-hop producer J Dilla while the shimmering synthesizers of “Crawlersout” evoked the British synth-pop pioneers New Order. The histrionic “Sea Castle” could have been mistaken for a futuristic remix of a Lady Gaga hit.

Sporadically creepy lyrics such as “cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you” on Purity Ring’s breakout hit “Fineshrine” didn’t prevent the duo from sounding overly precious on a few selections. The sing-song surrealism of “Bodyache” was fey. James’ childlike voice on the gently lilting “Amenamy” was almost unbearably twee.

Arresting visuals compensated for the weaker moments. James banged a glowing gong on “Dust Hymn” and manipulated spotlights that seemed to trigger vibraphone-like tones during “Stillness in Woe.”

A reliance on backing tracks didn’t allow for spontaneity. The absence of improvisation and the duo’s small discography forced an awkward confession from James as she introduced the final selection of the brief outing. She sheepishly advised that “we don’t have an encore … so don’t stick around.”

The opening band Health demonstrated similarly unpolished stage patter. Even so, the potent 35-minute performance by the visionary trio from Los Angeles was both impressive and alarming. In stark contrast to Purity Ring’s optimistic forecast, Health’s apocalyptic dance music portends a far bleaker future.

Purity Ring set list

Heartsigh, Amenamy, Repetition, Obedear, Lofticries, Push Pull, Belispeak, Crawlersout, Bodyache, Sea Castle, Stranger Than Earth, Dust Hymn, Flood on the Floor, Stillness in Woe, Fineshrine, Begin Again

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