Photo by Jinyoung Ko
Courtesy of Jinyoung Ko

The Barn was alive and kicking on Wednesday night, Jan. 30, with artists Niki & The Dove and Vacationer. As the launching show for this year’s Winter Concert Series, it wasn’t surprising that the audience stood before the stage in anticipation for over half an hour before the performance began. Dimmed lights and background music set the tone for a night of chill music and spectacle. Merchandise tables selling VACA, Niki & The Dove T-shirts and free posters transformed the Barn’s ordinary look. The atmosphere was animated to say the least.

Vacationer took the opening act as pioneers in their genre of dreamy, contemporary Nu-hula. Self-proclaimed “relaxation specialists,” Kenny Vasoli (vocalist, bass), Greg Altman (guitar), Michael Millin (vibraphone, keyboard) and Ryan Zimmaro (drums), invited the crowd to chill, as their loose yet buoyant harmonies, infused by controller melodies, had the mood instantly rippling with nods from the audience.

Vasoli—vocalist of pop-punk band The Starting Line and rock band Person L—jokingly asked if the conservative town from “Footloose” was based on Riverside when he noted a lack of people dancing. His smooth, high voice and falsetto complemented the more upbeat songs, including top hits “Good As New” and “Trip.” If the arrangements hadn’t set the mood for everyone, the visual projections playing to each song did the trick. Clips from breathtaking, tropical scenes reflected the vacation theme of escaping life’s struggles in search of freedom in each track on the set list.

This multimedia addition amplified an environment of relaxation and discovery; both the band and crowd seemed to be riding a wave as they swayed to the music. The final song was both a farewell and a transition into the main performance when Malin Dahlström, the lead singer of Niki & The Dove, stepped onstage for a duet with Vasoli. Her outfit of vibrant blue, animal print and face paint should have prepared us for their unconventional performance, but there would still be surprises to come.

After a brief intermission, Swedish pop duo Niki & The Dove—Dahlström (vocals) and Gustaf Karlöf (keyboards)—took the stage. Since the debut of their critically acclaimed single “DJ, Ease My Mind” (2010) and their debut album “Instinct” (2012), the Stockholm-based artists have established themselves as up-and-coming indietronica artists. In a recent interview with the Press-Enterprise, Dahlström said, “We try to let the song take you on a path that you don’t really have control over.” Their electro-pop melodies and eccentric dance movements heightened the vibe.

Aside from their bright, offbeat electro-sounds soaring over a dark, buzzing bass, the duo was highly experimental in their presentation. Dahlström put on a floral headdress and danced with fans as she sang, often holding two microphones and making bird shapes with her hands. She later shook a tambourine to the closing song, “The Drummer,” as the rings on her hands lit up in neon colors. Gustav created a remarkable variety of sounds and percussions on the keyboard, flourishing a slapstick clapper as the energetic crowd jumped up and down, raising up their hands and posters. Despite their small team, Niki & The Dove were dramatic—almost to the point of excess—in their variety of sound, but the audience was willing to take that leap into uncharted sonic waves.

The pair of musical acts proved to be a complementary package. It’s thrilling to know that UCR was the last stop on their joint tour. Their sincerity and appreciation for the crowd made the intimate setting at the Barn all the more appealing. High energy levels and an open-minded atmosphere were the perfect reception for these de-stressing harmonies and exploratory talents. Now that the first performance of the Winter Concert Series has concluded, it will be interesting to see what artists are lined up for the rest of the season.