Princeton’s most active student band, The Divergence—Dan Penner, Phil McNeal, Arjun Jain, and Eric Weiser— played Thursday at Terrace. On the evidence of the club’s packed ballroom, they are also the University’s most popular, as I observed a number of students easily singing along with Penner, the band’s calm, almost insouciant vocalist. I had never seen the group play live before, and had never really wished to, because listening to their recordings had left me impressed by their skill and coherence, but ultimately unmoved. Penner’s lyrics, while well-wrought, were filled with youth as in this line from “Let It Go”: “what was once inside a light my heart /ceases to glow”. In this way, The Divergence’s was quite similar to most collegiate work; it is rarely good in-itself, functioning instead as experiment or practice in the artist’s, or writer’s, maturation. While I believe strongly that this maturation is helped by the scrutiny that a receptive student body can offer—though often does not, kind relational ties with the artist(s) obstructing—The Divergence’s music did not offer enough to draw me away from my regular diet of Van Morrison and the Dirty Projectors.
What, of course, those folk cannot offer, and what The Divergence can, are live shows. This band happens to thrive in this respect, for the aesthetic experience of a live show is most distinct from that of a recording in how it integrates the audience into the performance itself, and Thursday, they showed they can draw quite a crowd. Furthermore, a live show can invigorate what feels conventional on record, deploying it with immediacy and physicality to the very bones of the audience. I cannot say The Divergence have differentiated themselves as a band by their live performance, but an exciting performance is, nonetheless, an impressive accomplishment. And on Thursday, I felt their once-clichéd chords as sabers and heard their basic drums as thunder in the mountains, for, like nature, these specific sounds took their first existence before me. Even the lyrics of “Let It Go” gained internal strength by their transpiring from the breast of a present Penner, who sang with impressive vigor. Even that old Talking Heads track, “Psycho Killer”, was given hopping life by the band’s cover. And all of the songs were given added life by the singing along and the dancing along, by the weak border between band and crowd, breached once by a rowdy fellow who played air-bass beside the unfazed Weiser. There is surely an element of intoxication to all of this, in the mass and sway of the crowd, in the elision of distinct songs by energy and the effacement of the band by their own voluptuous sound, in the absence of the feeling of the passage of time. The urgent groove that induced this I could not feel on their April EP, No Words. But one feels one’s critical faculty overcome and likely must let it be. For these night rites direct themselves toward pure pleasure, and when they reach that starry point, as The Divergence did on Thursday—and as Sensemaya would do on Saturday—there is a fine, worthwhile sensation.