By Claire Bergeal

With a spontaneous on-stage dance party and crowd-surfing rhythm guitarist, Architecture in Helsinki surpassed their plunky, wistful reputation Saturday night at the Rio Theatre on Soquel, delivering an energetic performance and broadening their young, cultish following. Touring their way down from San Francisco to Los Angeles with bands Panther and Glass Candy, Architecture stopped for a vibrant evening in Santa Cruz to promote their fourth album, “Places Like This,” released in July.

Architecture in Helsinki is comprised of six members who take turns playing the wide variety of instruments. Their sound is often described as indie-pop, but their performance on Saturday suggested much more versatility than that. The opening bands gave varied performances to a sparse crowd, which was teeming with poster children for bad posture.	

Panther’s vocalist Charles Salas-Humara skittered and convulsed across the stage, shrieking and moaning into the mic, overshadowing the only other band member, drummer Joe Kelly. Incessant reverb and voice looping over heavy bass beats was reminiscent of nightclub antics and drowned the talented Kelly.

Glass Candy followed, lobbing fruit through the air and into the crowd throughout the set. Singer Ida No introduced the band as “a new Grateful Dead.” She must have been sarcastic.

What started as abrasive, dissonant chord structures piled high with reverb quickly morphed into a sweaty dance party, like everyone there had been fast friends, unless they didn’t dance, in which case, they were straight out of luck. Keyboardist/producer Johnny Jewel performed energetically, continuously bouncing up and down, even when the music had stopped. Ida No was nothing but endearing, leaving the whole crowd smitten with her brassy, scratchy charm vocals.

Headliner Architecture in Helsinki took the stage as the thickening crowd surged forward. The six members played everything from the basic guitar and drums to the analog synthesizer with such energy and handclapping, that the audience may as well have been a seventh band member. Despite a few technical difficulties accompanied by excessive stalling and banter, the crowd was enthusiastic and playful.

The show came to a climax during their song “****.” An impromptu dance party broke out on stage, as more and more audience members clambered on to the platform, but band members hardly seemed to mind. The scene left one wondering two things: is this a Polyphonic Spree reference of sorts, and will there be any audience left to watch whomever gets on stage?

Once the song came to an end and singer Cameron Bird shooed everyone offstage in disbelief, the crowd bubbled forth with energy, hungry for more. The band followed with hit “Do the Whirlwind,” during which the crowd crouched down, undulating and stumbling forward as they attempted to dance while squatting as near to the ground as possible, rising and falling as the music crescendoed and decrescendoed.

Architecture in Helsinki delivered a dynamic show, surprising even themselves. “We don’t usually wet our pants like this,” Bird said. “The Bay Area was like our special home, until we came to Santa Cruz.”