Last night the line to get into the Echoplex stretched all the way down the driveway and around the block. Security guards had to shoo away alternate lines that started forming by those who were still hoping in vain for an extra ticket even though the place had sold out. Not half bad considering this was only the second show this New Zealand band had ever played in Los Angeles. Yes, The Naked and Famous are getting along swimmingly in the City of Angels thus far scoring a coveted invite to play on Morning Becomes Eclectic that morning and selling out the Echoplex that night. It seems that everyone was curious to see whether or not they lived up to the hype that had been wafting over the Pacific.
With the smoke machines belching out clouds of murky atmosphere the Kiwis emerged looking like extremely young ghosts. Any signs of skittishness they may have had evaporated as soon as they touched their instruments. The electricity that flowed through these instruments appeared to have been infused with courage because "Hello Los Angeles!" was bellowed boldly out by lead singer Thom Powers. After the niceties had been established they were off and running.
The nucleus of The Naked and Famous are the sweetly androgynous vocals of Powers and Alisa Xayalith. They almost sound like the same person harmonizing with their feminine and masculine qualities. Supporting the vocals was an irresistible drum beat that laid the floorboards on which the guitar and the synthesizer did battle to see who would dominate each song. There was almost never a balanced harmony between the two. Either the soft twinkling space age melodies would win out or the Smashing Pumpkins inspired guitars that growled and roared through the speakers.
The result was a very uneven feeling like a tug of war. Every now and then there would be a blissful moment of balance and the band would really shine in particular on "Young Blood" and "Punching In A Dream" all the elements would fall into place and magic would radiate from the stage. It was no secret when they got it right. The crowd would reward them with squeals of adulation that rippled through the room. The Naked and Famous has all the right ingredients, but seems to have trouble with the proportions most of the time. If they can just get their measurements right more often they could be a force to be reckoned with.
After the set the Echoplex emptied out a little bit which was nice because people were so packed that there were small skirmishes between patrons trying to get a drink. No one likes to elbow their way into getting a cocktail.
Midnight Juggernauts lived up to their name and went on at witching hour. The lights rained down upon them like twinkling stars upon a moonlit lake, leaving them half in the shadows. Like gloomy space age Bowie impersonators the Melbourne rockers launched into some of the most tedious dance music I've ever come across. With the beat driving each song like a mallet, the Juggernauts tried to construct some sort of intricate melody around them with varying success. It was as if the band was lost in some zombie-like trance forced to plod on without any passion or enthusiasm.
Until all of a sudden a saxophone player arrived on stage. With a quiet smile this young man launched into the first few famous notes of Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" and the band followed suit with great gusto. It was fantastic. As if an evil curse had been lifted, the guys woke from their slumber and shook off their imaginary shackles. The tempo picked up and their next song "Tombstone" got the front row grooving.
They never really managed to recreate the magic of that cover, but the rest of the set was stripped of most of its malaise. It's just a shame that it didn't pick up until the very end and most of the crowd had gone home, but for the last couple songs Midnight Juggernauts really did themselves proud. I'm not sure if it was the influence of the saxophone player or the confidence of the cover or both, but whatever it was the Midnight Juggernauts should really consider doing it at the beginning of the set. It made all the difference.