By now it’s no secret that Chaz Bundick aka Chaz Bear aka Toro y Moi is an unpredictable man of many forms. Emerging as a pioneer of the unfortunately-named “chillwave” movement of the late-2000s (alongside acts like Washed Out and Neon Indian), Bear quickly carved out his own lane within the blog-influenced world with his signature brand of lo-fi dance music. Yet, rather than be boxed in by the faction’s known tendencies for filtered vocals and reverb-drenched drum samples, the rest of Bear’s career has been defined by his seamless ability to change form and further his artistry beyond whatever sound might have previously brought him success.
For instance, since the release of movement-defining albums such as 2010’s Causers Of This and 2011’s Underneath The Pine, we’ve seen Bear release electronic house music under the moniker Les Sins, release a '70s-infused guitar-rock album reminiscent of Big Star, record a live album in an empty Californian desert with no audience, tour and record with twin brother jazz duo The Mattson 2, and then in 2017 make his most ambitious shift with the release of Boo Boo, an '80s-inspired batch of pop jams sounding like something out of the Top Gun soundtrack.
This pop-tinged version of Chaz Bear is how Wednesday night’s crowd found him at White Oak Music Hall, just four days removed from the release of Toro Y Moi’s sixth full-length, Outer Peace.
Just as Boo Boo relied on vintage synths and drum machines, Outer Peace dives even further into Bear’s capabilities of conceiving believable R&B-inspired pop music—this time with more dance floor tendencies than ever before. Yet, while the themes of Boo Boo revolved around the heartbreak of a recent breakup, Outer Peace on the other hand is a playful and carefree exploration into the life of a creative. One listen through the album makes clear that this lighthearted approach to songwriting is where Bear is far most comfortable—a comfort that certainly spills over to his live show.
Considering this was Toro Y Moi’s first trek through Houston since a 2015 stop at Fitzgerald’s, much of Wednesday night’s sold-out crowd got their first taste of the exploratory pop-leaning artist that Chaz Bear has become in recent years. Starting the night off with “Mirage” and “No Show,” two songs that sound hand-picked straight out of the 1980s, Bear eased the crowd into this classic 808 sound. By the time the set reached “Freelance” and “Ordinary Pleasure,” (the two lead singles from Outer Peace), any possible reservations about this 2019 version of Chaz Bear were unnoticeable, as the funk-driven bass lines of both songs transformed the floors of White Oak into a full-fledged dance party.
Also made apparent at the outset of the night was just how much the stage production of Toro Y Moi has grown over the years. What in the past was a pretty standard live band setup with Chaz Bear tucked off to the side manning the keys, is now a visually intriguing design that allows Bear to roam around the front of the stage like the front-man he really is. This is largely thanks to two divider walls being placed at the back of the stage, which not only created an intimacy with the band, but also served as a backdrop for solid hues of light to engulf the stage, creating a James Turrell-like effect.
With buoyant selections like “Fading” and “Inside My Head,” the lively effects of this design were on display as Bear bounced around the stage with the wireless mike, letting the three members behind him pick up the instrumental demands. Though Bear’s accompanying dance moves throughout the night were far from something you’d see from your everyday front-man (and rather a bit quirky), the purely instinctual nature of his movements added a charming and relatable effect to the live show, inviting the audience to join along.
As Bear recently laid out in a feature with Complex, his goal with Outer Peace was to create “a car record...a record that brings pleasure and enjoyment in the car.” As insignificant a motive as this may seem to those who routinely look to music to have some kind of profound meaning, the simplicity of this task allowed for Bear to construct a quick and entertaining record that rarely (if ever) loses the listener. What this allowed for on Wednesday night was a set that included the entirety of the 30 minute album, while still leaving plenty of room for Bear to navigate through the expansive discography of Toro Y Moi.
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For instance, with “Blessa,” Bear took the crowd back to 2010, when the sound of Toro Y Moi revolved around lo-fi anthems layered in reverb and nostalgic synths. Here it was easy to see how such a carefree sound was able to carry with it such a large movement in chillwave. Yet, further clear was how such a sound would have been limiting for an artist like Chaz Bear to remain boxed in by—a forward-thinking artist who on a year-by-year basis is capable of using his vast knowledge of music to craft an ever-changing assortment of soundscapes and feelings.
Nothing better brought home this point than the conclusion of the night’s set, which showed off three completely different forms of Toro Y Moi. With “New House,” you had a slow-grooving R&B jam that flowed in the manner of Frank Ocean. With “New Beat,” you had a disco-inspired fan favorite reminiscent of something from a 1970s roller rink. Then closing out the night, you had “Rose Quartz,” a dance floor banger that emphasized Bear’s affinity for classic house music. With each, it was clear just how far Chaz Bear has evolved beyond the lo-fi sound with which he is so often associated.
As the opener (Wet) stated on Wednesday night, in a time where so many artists are doing the same thing and constantly imitating each other's sound, we as music fans should cherish artists like Chaz Bear now more than ever before—artists that continue to push themselves beyond the confines of what’s expected of them or what has already been done, all while making certain to have a good time doing so.