September 7, 2011
Better than: Being stuck in a steam room with 98.7 FM on the radio.
Los Angeles-based folk-rockers So & So performed a triumphant gig at the center of a nuclear reactor last night. . . oh, wait. It was actually the Viper Room, which seems to have redirected its air conditioning budget into buckets and buckets of black paint. The band's set, and especially lead singer Amie Miriello's sultry stage presence, matched the heat in the room.
Upon taking the stage, keyboardist/vocalist Brandon Rogers greeted the crowd with a hearty, "What's up, Viper Room?!?" as he manned his two-tiered kit. They kicked things off with the inappropriately-titled "Cold as Hell." Visibly perspiring, Miriello nevertheless wailed and hip-thrusted through the uptempo number. Bassist Bana Haffar deftly added chunky rhythms that teetered on the edge of sonic domination. Somehow, it all fit together.
"We are So & So, and we got something to say!" said Rogers, which was repeated by Miriello on "No Sex," albeit through a layer of digital delay that made the message difficult to make out. The effect highlighted her bell-like voice, however, and it reached almost Kate Bush-ian highs on the seductively playful tune. Guitarist Jay Dmuchowski displayed some fine fingerpicking skills, as well, more Lindsey Buckingham than campfire strummer. "Man, the AC in here is great," Miriello joked at the song's completion, giving voice to what everyone in the teeming sweat lodge of a bar was thinking.
The multiracial, three-guy and two-girl group clearly takes lyrical and harmonic influence from Fleetwood Mac, which was was made explicit in the set's highlight, "Broke." Sounding like a heartbreaking Stevie Nicks-led ballad from Rumours or Tusk, it is as moving as contemporary pop music gets. Miriello documents a relationship gone wrong: "So abandon all your hope/ 'cause you bent me 'til I broke/ and I can't save you now." The set took a more upbeat turn with "Monkey See," their most carefree rocker of the evening. Rogers even beat his chest emphatically, to the delight of the hometown crowd.
The last two songs moved into more traditional rock territory. "Back to the Front," one of their newest tracks, explored the dark side of Hollywood and its commoditization of women. "No sucking dicks for money, girls!" Miriello admonished. She quickly added, "Only for fun!" The song itself rides a funky beat, laid down expertly by drummer Adam Hanson. They closed the set with "Ready," for which Dmuchowski finally broke out his electric guitar. He channeled his inner Jimmy Page on the brief-but-gnarly solo, and the group reached a state of ecstatic interplay that proved to be a final high point.
Opening artist Bobby Jo Valentine, a San Francisco boy, made his Los Angeles debut, seeming like the nicest guy to ever pick up an acoustic guitar. He peppered his Jack Johnson- and Jason Mraz-flavored set with a string of "Thank you"'s to the audience, his new pickup band, the venue owners and (I think) random strangers walking down Sunset. He sang of wanting someone to "chase away his dark," even though his demeanor was not particularly dark.
His songs often had a nautical bent, as well, often referencing drowning and ships in his acoustic- and ukulele-driven ditties. "This is the rocker on the album," he declared before "Some Days." He was right, in that it sounded more like Matchbox 20 than Jack Johnson. His set displayed some pleasant tunes and witty wordplay, but we would like to see him stretch himself out musically and lyrically, perhaps even letting himself get angry at some point in the future.
Middle act Dartmouth sounded like a jukebox that spins out only white-guy radio hits from the 1990s and 2000s. The sextet employed churning guitars, pounding drums and whooshing keyboards into thick modern rock. "Stars" had an anthemic, Killers-ish drive, whereas "Hero" glistened like the slickest Train single. Lead singer Justin Joyce even broke out his falsetto on "Sunshine." Sadly, Dartmouth didn't have the musical smarts to back up their Ivy League moniker through the entire set. Riffs and choruses bled together on their weaker tracks, like hearing a Collective Soul outtake reel through a not-so-great sound system.
Personal Bias: I was not expecting a band (So & So) that has a former American Idol contestant (Brandon Rogers) to be so good. I was pleasantly surprised.
Overheard in the Crowd: "How old is that guy?" by a young scenester next to me, in reference to an older man in a Led Zeppelin T-shirt who looked like the last surviving Ramone.
Random Notebook Dump: Dartmouth has a lot of female fans, and somehow each of them is the worst dancer I've seen since Elaine Benes.
So & So set list below.
So & So set list:
Cold as Hell
What's the Use?
Back to the Front