Bardot–a Los Angeles club tucked into Hollywood’s dense layout–is swanky. Swanky like an old-school mansion with dark weaving hallways, swanky like tentatively walking in on some exclusive party, unsure of where you belong. Old friends met and chatted holding colorful drinks in dim light, surrounding me as I squeezed onto brocaded couches. People old and young congregated beneath intricate Grecian moldings and a tented, breezy ceiling to watch blue-bathed musicians perform.
This past Monday’s KCRW presented School Night (hosted weekly by Chris Douridas, who celebrated his birthday last night) featured Duniven and Races opening for headliner Ivy (featuring of Adam Schlesinger of The Guys Who Sang Stacy’s M–I mean, Fountains of Wayne)
Duniven kicked off the night with a decent set. The six (sometimes seven with a guest vocalist) members of the band squeezed onto the tiny stage. Despite so many musicians and layers and instruments, their sound was simplistic and unvaried. The baselines were the best sonic element, but it was hard to focus on the good qualities with so much going on. The drummer played one beat the entire set, featuring a painful bullet of a snare hit on every. single. quarter. note of every, single song. There was a convincing jam session or two, which gave me moments of hope; the vocals were sweet and rough in that lovely folky way; lead singer/guitarist/harmonica-ist/band namesake Duniven was a killer harmonica player, and the songs with that curious instrument were my favorites from their set. I personally would’ve preferred Duniven as a duo with Duniven on lead acoustic, vocals, harmonica, and Dan Komin on bass–done. No need for the childish keys, the seated percussionist with a maraca in one hand and a Stella in the other, or those stale, lifeless drum beats.
The next band on stage was Races, and they were quick to inject some much needed life and musicianship into the night. If I may gush for a little, the moment they took the stage they had a beautiful presence: one of fun and excitement yet somehow humbled and unassuming. They were electric in the blue light, and won over my heart like no band I’ve never heard of has done before. (Did that make sense?) It has been a long time since I’ve been genuinely impressed by the demeanor, musicianship, and presentation of a brand new band–they formed in fall 2009, have released one 7-inch, and will release their first full length later this year through Frenchkiss Records–and Races did just that.
As for their music, it was a delightful drizzle of much needed musical variation. Duniven, take note: even though Races had six members on stage, each was a vital and contributing part of the band; each instrument was distinct and audible, and the resulting sound was cohesive and euphonic. I quickly developed a girl crush on tambourine shaking, single snare slapping frontwoman Devon Lee–she won me over easily with an infectious charisma, a simple dress, and a heavenly voice. Alongside her stood straight-faced and characteristically mysterious frontman Wade Ryff, busy spilling out his dulcet, Jim James voice. They were backed by a careful band: drummer Lucas Ventura, who, when you weren’t lured by the expanse of chest hair escaping from his deep v-neck, could be spotted making the silliest of faces while expertly exploring his drumset’s range of volumes; pixie-haired keyboardist/vocalist Breanna Wood; ginger-headed bassist/synth-player Oliver Hild switched between serving tasty baseline and rocking the moog; and Garth Herberg strumming the guitar in his own happy world.
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