Thursday nights at the Hammer: cheap (free), relaxed (lots of art), and perfectly programmed to highlight some of LA's most intriguing bands. This year's season, which kicked off at the beginning of July, has already brought Amazing Baby (not from LA, but from Brooklyn), Band of Skulls, Everest, and Red Cortez, among others. This past Thursday, Foreign Born and Warpaint, both of LA, played the courtyard to a standing-room-only crowd.
One allure of the Hammer shows is the vibe. Held in an outdoor courtyard, the stage under a cascade of leaves from towering trees, it feels like you're watching a band in the woods — except with art all around. Warpaint's opening set was perfectly matched for the setting; they play an eerie, echo-laden brand of post-punk that draws on the bass-heavy, dance-friendly sound of early Siouxsie and the Banshees, Pornography-era Cure, and the bevy of all-female European bands of the early 1980s — Liliput, the Slits, Delta 5 — that fused dub and punk and pop to create a unique and visionary sound that sounds great a few decades later.
Warpaint update this blueprint with curlicue rhythms, jerky guitar and the tag-team vocal duties shared among the sturdy, beautiful voice of guitarist Emily Kokel and the more deliberate but equally notable throat of bassist Jennie Lee Lindberg. Combined, the pair, augmented with the backing vocals and keyboards of Theresa Wayman, create friction.
Foreign Born are smart about gigging LA. They don't do it too often, when they do they make it an event. As a result people flock to see them. And with good reason; on the heels of their new Person to Person, the band is traveling places that a few years ago you'd have never thunk they'd head. Their first album, On the Wing Now, was one of those creepers that was always a jolt of joy each time iPod shuffle landed on a song from it. But on Person to Person, they've expanded to draw in West African guitar music. The structures are still rock structures, but the flair has grown. Yeah, a lot of indie bands are doing the same thing, but in Foreign Born's case it never feels contrived. They songs are just deeper, and richer.
That's not to say that the band couldn't use a little more action onstage. Though they're playing a rhythmically enhanced version of the music they once did, it might be a good idea for them to draw another cue from Africa and dance a little more up onstage. When King Sunny Ade plays, the band has some moves that they break out from time to time. Femi Kuti demands that his band do some moves.
After all, If you're gonna deliver the rhythm, you have to feel the rhythm, and the best way to do that is to dance, to party, to move and have fun. The very act of delivering some sort of synchronized routine doubles the funkiness, doubles the pleasure, and proves to the crowd that the band is thinking beyond just the music and also into the presentation. The best way to get detached LA art kids to dance is to show them how to do it.
This week sees Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Eskimohunter at the Hammer. Show begins at 8 p.m. It's free.