The two men billed at the Bootleg Theater last night could not be more different. Rocco DeLuca's blues set contrasted sharply to Active Child's harp-filled synth pop. It was almost as if a psych grad student was revealing the results of a test that he had being conducting. The question being answered would be something along the lines of, "What Happens When You Leave A Man Alone in A Recording Studio With Only His Thoughts As Company?" Will he see demons or will he see angels? In case the audience had any doubts of who saw which, Active Child put up a projector which cast a giant screen of stained glass windows as the back drop during his set. That combined with the harp solo and Grossi's ethereal voice pretty much beat you over the head that this was going to be a heavenly experience.
Rocco DeLuca appeared on the stage in a white T-shirt and jeans, his hair cropped short and a scowl on his face, armed with a guitar and nothing else. The only light source emanated from a light bulb clipped to the microphone turned upwards, which made him look like a demon getting ready to tell a ghost story around a campfire, casting shadows on the naked beams of the wooden ceiling. It turned out to be remarkably appropriate considering that was exactly the kind of stories DeLuca wanted to tell, haunting tales of lost loves and the shaky trust he had in others and himself.
Gifted with a powerful high voice DeLuca could switch between a honeyed lilt to a vicious snarl in five seconds flat, which sometimes caught the audience unawares.
It did not help that the music was being played from the speakers in the back, which gave the audience the eerie sensation that DeLuca was singing just over their shoulders, creeping up behind them, but it ensured that the crowd would pay fierce attention. There's nothing worse than being snuck up on.
DeLuca's played his acoustic electric guitar with all the heartbreak and grit of a Mississippi Delta blues man and was accompanied by a a bass drum track which beat omnously from the speakers. There was not an upbeat number in the set, something that DeLuca readily acknowledged. "Here's another sad song, if you're not totally depressed yet," he said with a smile. With lyrics that lamented, "I can't remember the last time you kissed me," and begged,"I trust you to kill me," it is easy to imagine the set as a let down, but instead be assured that DeLuca's pain was mesmerizing. His raw soul was laid bare before us and there was nothing we could do to help him, but watch.
On the penultimate song of the set DeLuca brought his friend Trixie Whitney on stage to sing a duet. Dressed in muted tones with a black scarf, Whitney's smokey voice seemed to smooth over DeLuca's rough edges in what was one of the loveliest songs of the night.
After Rocco DeLuca finished, Active Child, the project of Pat Grossi took the stage. Backed up by a bassist and a laptop, Grossi alternated each song between a large stand-up harp, keyboards which rumbled like an organ, and electric guitar, seemingly never satisfied with the sound he was currently making. Perhaps part of the lasting effects of writing an entire EP yourself is that the desire to control every aspect of the song, which doesn't go away after you start playing it live.
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Contrasting to Deluca's white t-shirt and jeans, Grossi was dressed primly in a gray ironed shirt which was buttoned up to the neck like a choirboy. There was, however, nothing restrained or subdued about his performance. Grossi's pure unfiltered joy radiated from his voice filling the room with songs with mysterious titles like "I'm In Your Church At Night," "She Was A Vision," and "When Your Love Is Safe."
The electronic beats and whistles that served as the drum beat sharply contrasted against the organic beauty of Grossi's voice and harp producing this bizarre sound which one could imagine being popular with robotic seraphim. It was unlike anything else being played around Los Angeles and makes Active Child one of the most interesting bands to watch this year. Hopefully his upcoming album will live up to the promise of his EP. If the performance last night is any indication, though, we're in for something really special.