Better Than ... The drive-by shooting that occurred just a block down the street from the nightclub over the weekend.
The setting should have seemed familiar. The club formerly known as Spaceland has long been the epicenter of the vaunted Silver Lake indie-rock scene, and references to the neighborhood cropped up in "Rowena," an ode to the nearby avenue that kicked off the local quartet's set. Heywood began most of his songs by singing in a wounded, vulnerably melodic croon as he contemplated his place in the universe -- one tune was even called "Weight of the World" -- before the rest of the band smothered his sentiments in an avalanche of thunderous riffs.
Heywood and fellow guitarist Dan Rossiter peeled out elaborately tangled dual solos that had a dazzling prog/math-rock complexity while Ben's bassist-wife, Heather Haywood, and drummer Mike Horick battened down the hatches with grungy storminess. Extreme shifts in dynamics were at the heart of many of the group's songs, as whispered intimacies were suddenly turned into violent howling into the wind. Both Heywoods are the children of ministers, and their songs often reflect the disillusionment and existential contradictions of growing up in a world that's hypocritical and anything but holy, with Ben describing lovers who are "divorced by 21" and urging the crowd to "forget everything you've done."
And yet, for all of the heaviness of the band's subject matter and the complexity of their riffs, Summer Darling's music also had a euphoric, anthemic quality that had fans in the front of the stage raising their Pabst beer cans and shouting along with Ben's conflicted choruses. Heather Haywood's soothing backup vocals were like cool drops of rain falling on a surging river of lava -- another the way the group loves to contrast darkness with light.
As they pounded through their set, Summer Darling continued to build momentum, mixing new songs from an upcoming release, Abandoner, with selections from their recent self-titled album. They were joined by two special guests -- Vanaprasta singer Steven Wilkins and guitarist Cameron Dmytryk -- for a hazily rousing version of "Carving Letters." The quartet returned for an encore, a fierce rendition of their early song "The Zealot," with Ben Heywood declaring, in typically contrarian fashion, "I've got cancers to reward."
Don't know how those cancers felt afterward, but the crowd seemed considerably rewarded by the convulsive, cathartic set. One got the sense that Summer Darling would be going places soon, perhaps even outgrowing this cozy little neighborhood, which -- for one night, at least -- really did feel like the center of the world.
Critical Bias: I've always had a weakness for extreme shifts in tempo and dynamics while a tortured singer tries to find his place in the cosmos.
The Crowd: The young and the restless, and too curiously forward thinking (if mildly besotted) to be merely hip.
Random Notebook Dump: It felt like going to church, but with a really kick-ass, decibel-shredding choir.
Set list below,