Better Than . . . self-medicating a broken heart without the keen supervision of a pair of trained English romantic-disillusionment specialists.
Slow Club is a band of fascinating contrasts. Onstage, singer Rebecca Taylor tells silly jokes and exhorts the crowd to have fun, and yet she and her musical partner, Charles Watson, croon some of the saddest ballads this side of their hero Leonard Cohen. There are some compulsively buoyant pop moods on Slow Club's recent album, Paradise, but you could say that the Sheffield group are at their best when they're feeling their worst.
"You got the brains/I got the body," Taylor intoned early on at the Echoplex, turning what could have been a sarcastic or boastful line into something vulnerable and hauntingly yearning. Watson answered her plea with star-lit chimes of guitar before the rest of the band came rushing in to fill the lonely void of "Where I'm Waking" with a euphoric chorus.
In the past, Watson and Taylor have appeared here as a duo, but last night they were augmented by a drummer and a bassist. The rhythm section added a solid rock drive and fulsome pop grandeur to many of the new songs, but they were also wise enough to lay back or sit out entirely on the quieter ballads.
Taylor alternated between drums and guitar, while Watson stuck to guitar. She and Watson sang clearly and robustly, whether they were trading verses or blending together in those deliciously bittersweet harmonies. Some of the best moments came when they backed themselves with just those mournful voices and a somberly plucked guitar or two.
As Taylor put down her drumsticks and strapped on a guitar, a roadie came out and tossed candy from the stage, raising a little stir from the large but meek crowd.
"Anybody ever been to Sheffield?" Taylor asked to dead silence. Nonplussed, Watson struck up with the sparse, clean and bass-y chords of "Never Look Back," chopping up little bits of languid soul between his and Taylor's deliriously aching harmonies. After "Horses Jumping," another stately ballad, the ever-cheeky Taylor had another go at the crowd.
"You're very polite, L.A. It's very weird," she said. Taylor encouraged everyone to start swearing, drawing only a few mild and mumbled expletives at first, until someone daringly cried out, "Poop!" It was an inauspicious beginning, but soon people began to relax and respond more enthusiastically to the band, clapping in time with the bass drum.
One of Watson's midtempo new songs had a Pink Floyd sway, with Taylor's backup vocals floating downward like a cloud full of sighs. Later, fans gasped and cheered when Taylor sang about a new lover who wasn't "afraid to flip me over."
After closing the set with the jaunty-melancholic bounce of "Two Cousins," Watson and Taylor returned sans rhythm section, encoring with a stripped-down version of "Gold Mountain." Trading earnestly affecting lines like "No one really is a mystery ... Don't be scared to say you miss me," the pair maintained an endearing intimacy. They continued as a duo on the next and last song of the evening, "Giving Up on Love," before being joined halfway through by the drummer and bassist, who helped finish things off in raucous fashion.
The crowd: It wasn't that the crowd wasn't into the band. No one left early, and everybody hung rapturously onto every divine utterance from Taylor's and Watson's lips. The audience was more bashful than anything else, like a room full of wallflowers who were so fascinated by the British pair that they had to come out of the shadows and stand in front of the stage.
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Random notebook dump: Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor didn't climb down from the stage and perform unplugged on the dance floor as they have at previous L.A. appearances, perhaps as a result of the bigger rooms and higher stages they're now playing.