El Rey Theatre, February 17
“My, you’re such a polite crowd,” marveled Camera Obscura’s diminutive singer, Tracyanne Campbell, a few songs into their set. “It’s almost like you’re afraid to let go or something.” She must’ve just missed the memo: Quiet is the new loud. Somewhere between the latest DJ mashup and yet another remix on cocaine, a sizable contingent of America’s youth has made a conscious move to turn down the volume and take it easy with lilting melodies and some easy nostalgia on the side. This was never more evident than at the extremely sold-out Camera Obscura show, where eager twee neophytes (tweeophytes?) piled into the El Rey armed with sketchbooks and limited-edition vinyl 7-inches in homage to their gentle Scottish heroes.
Openers Portastatic set the subdued tone. Led by Mac McCaughan from ’90s college-rock stalwarts Superchunk, tonight the band stripped down to a duo of McCaughan and violinist Margaret White. Still, their ramshackle spirit shone through well-crafted songs invoking early Springsteen (and maybe a little Pavement without the big words). The cover of Prefab Sprout’s “When Love Breaks Down” was a nice touch.
But tonight belonged to Camera Obscura, who settled into a placid and alt-countrified groove for most of the show. Strumming through older songs like “Suspended From Class” and recent B-side “Lemon Juice and Paper Cuts,” the band primed an enchanted audience for a shot of their more up-tempo tunes. An enamored fan bought the band a round of drinks as encouragement. When they finally delivered, they delivered big. As they charged through “If Looks Could Kill” and fan favorite “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken,” their clever blend of Motown, Burt Bacharach and Britpop (think the Smiths and Sundays) was undeniably glorious. Ending with a blissed-out take on “Razzle Dazzle Rose,” Camera Obscura proved that it’s safe to put away those Belle & Sebastian comparisons once and for all. They’ve got their own kind of quiet going on.
—Scott T. Sterling