The word of the evening, ladies and gentlemen, is talent. Last night at the Troubadour, raw talent was apparent in every band that graced the tiny stage, making for an awesomely accurate portrayal of today’s local rock scene. Six groups came and went, each bringing a different and individual sound, thus creating a more than satisfying night of face-melting. With an entire glorious new year of concert-going ahead, this show set the bar for many acts to come. Bring it on, 2011.
The Modern Drone
The night started out early with The Modern Drone. A few people lingered and chatted on the floor, and the show instantly took on a concert-out-of-your-neighbor’s-garage feel. The sound was good—promising—but the newness and inexperience of the band was apparent. This is not a bad thing; rather, it’s quite interesting to be able to compare this embryonic trio to a more developed band with a definite presence and a sense of cohesion and confidence (such as thatwasthen). Here were three kids before me—skinny-ass boys in old tees and jeans—shredding and jamming and looking a little nervous, but undeniably talented and filled with potential. Two more years practicing in Mom’s garage and playing some local gigs and I think I’d see a whole new band.
My only real complaint was the vocals were painful at times. Their sound was likeable, but nothing too mind-blowing—very Strokes influenced, sprinkled with some killer bass lines. Some of the lyrics made me chuckle, such as “you rip out my heart, you rip my heart into pieces.” Ah, to be so young and angsty. In all, I am intrigued to watch this band grow and mature into a real unit, but for now, I find myself loving the bright-eyed and wandering unprofessionalism, driven simply by a love of music and the need to rock.
As the venue filled a little more with people, the next band set up equipment and tuned guitars and check-checked into the mics. This band was Bethpage Black, and with five tall guys with facial hair and Adam’s apples (and one with a really sweet afro), they stood in stark comparison to the infantile Modern Drone. They had a heavier, more metal influenced sound, and I immediately related them to The Mars Volta, Alien Ant Farm, and My Chemical Romance (the good qualities of My Chemical Romance, that is). The vocalist, Matt Carmichael, was impressive: he owned the stage and had the powerful voice necessary to front a heavy-rock band. He reminded me of a line from Almost Famous, where the lead singer, Jeff Bebe, is talking to Russell Hammond, the guitarist, and says, “I work just as hard or harder than anybody on that stage. You know what I do? I connect. I get people off. I look for the guy who isn’t getting off, and I make him get off.” This is all I could think of watching this front-man making wonderful, terrifying eye contact with each individual in the crowd, sweating and writhing and craning his neck to meet the microphone and belting out lines and lyrics.
Not to be upstaged was the rest of the band who provided the gritty and tenacious songs. They played skillfully and knowingly, and their small details (i.e. a trumpet) made a difference. Steve Coy on the drums was in his own little percussive world, providing a thundering heartbeat to the songs and the set as a whole. Basically, Bethpage Black made me miss my days of playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater (and by playing I mean watching my older brothers play) and listening to Sugarcult and Taking Back Sunday and feeling hardcore ‘cause I was rocking some Converse.
People by the Sea
People by the Sea followed up and brought a whole different sound to the stage—they lightened the mood with their singer-songwriter influenced folk rock. This sweet trio is a family affair, comprised of a husband and wife, Jacob Irwin and Leah Grounds-Irwin, and a brother, Dan Irwin. The affection on stage between the members was alive and well: Jake and Dan shared many brotherly smiles and nods, and Leah and Jake furtively exchanged loving glances, revealing the intimacy of many of the songs. The really distinct thing about this band was their ability to convey feeling and emotion. The songs were touching and relatable; they were artfully crafted and dynamic. For example, the song “Thick Joy” started out slow and soft and emotive, and it grew and developed into this exciting and full piece, booming with melody and light and reminiscent of a honey hued end of summer. Both Jake and Leah sing vocals in most of the songs, and their sweetly harmonic duetting (it’s a word!) reminded me specifically of the Joshua Radin song “What If You.”
There are two ways to look at People by the Sea’s music, I think. Emotionally, it is fantastic couples’ music; it is at its best when shared with someone special. (Hint: Valentine’s Day is coming up…) Musically, it is delicate at times but powerful always; it is easy to enjoy and gets under your skin instantly. Needless to say, I was terribly impressed by this band and, yet again, their unmistakable talent. (Here’s PbtS performing “Thick Joy” at Sally Loo’s in San Luis Obispo.)
It’s funny—I’ve featured these guys twice in the BNBTV Spotlight and seen them play two or three times before, but I’ve never actually reviewed a concert of theirs. Alas, that time has come, and I’m not entirely sure if I can find the right words to do them justice—hell, I don’t think there exists expressive enough words to do them any hint of justice. From the moment they step on the stage, they are a cohesive unit with a personality and a presence that is so crucial in the makings of a great, successful band. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, thatwasthen has an ever-growing, rock-solid fan base (pun freaking intended) of family and friends, now growing into friends of friends, etc. This draws large, tight-knit, highly dedicated crowds—the audience had nearly doubled from the start of the night by the time they began their set—and creates a beautiful sense of community. Furthermore, they were celebrating the release of their new self-titled album, so there was an extra underlying sense of excitement.
As for the music, it’s catchy, infectious, and downright lovable; it’s filled with clever lines and wit with a fierce classic rock influence. Every musician in the band is straight talented as well: singer Brenton Sinay’s got vocals for days with roving eyes piercing glances; bassist Benny Dacks must be one classy gent cause while his spidery fingers expertly navigate the bass, he’s always got a pinky up; lead guitarist Nick Papageorge can shred with the best of them, and his performance falls nothing short of making love to his gleaming white guitar; guitarist/keyboardist Nathan Londgon is the ultimate multitasker, laying down keyboard chords with a hot red guitar hanging from his neck; drummer Chris Bridge throws and twirls drumsticks while pounding the life out of the drumset. These guys are truly—and I use term in its purest meaning—a band. Well done boys.
The next band, Satellite Thieves, brought a totally different feel to the Troubadour. Clad in all black, these guys drew a bit older, Latino crowd. They had a good, strong alt-rock influence and sound and a lot of ambience. They were loud and powerful and obviously talented, but they didn’t stand out so much to me. Maybe I was still in awe of the superb performances from Bethpage Black, People by the Sea, and thatwasthen to really process what I was seeing and hearing. Regardless, they left a good first impression, and I would certainly want to see them in concert again.
By the end of this night, I was exhausted. So as Satellite Thieves packed up their stuff and I started to suppress yawns, I was jolted back to life by the lively appearance and sound of The Hush. First things first, the lead singer, Jazmine Giovanni, is spicy. She’s got this fiery red lion’s mane, and she was packed into tight black clothing and emblazoned with sparkles and rhinestones on her face and shoulders. Now that I think about it, she looked like one of the avatars you can choose as your lead singer on Guitar Hero. She dominated the stage, and immediately entered my mind as a fabulous rock diva a la Pat Benatar. Not to mention, she had insane vocals that exploded out of the venue and had jaws dropping.
The band as a whole was impressive, and despite their relative newness (they’ve been together for about a year) they were obviously seasoned professionals. The sound was operatic and dramatic, with the theatricality of acts such as Queen. It was a phenomenal set and a good—no, great—note to finish on (yup, another pun for the road).
Overall, I was just really blown away by all the talent that I witnessed in the space of five or six hours. Los Angeles is home to some truly amazing musicians who need and deserve all the support they can get, so I seriously encourage anyone who’s reading this to come out and catch a show or two (or ten). And even beyond that, there is always a local scene in need of support somewhere, so be adventurous and check it out. I don’t want to sound preachy here, but there really is no experience like a live experience. Thank you to all the bands I saw for providing some high-quality entertainment and playing your motherf***ing hearts out.
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