Pop Levi and the Parson Red Heads at the Echo, August 15
Photos by Timothy Norris
I'm kinda obsessed with this Pop Levi guy right now, and finally saw him Friday night at the Echo during week three of his residency. I tried to catch him on week one, and showed up at 10 o'clock thinking, 'cool, got here early even,' only too learn that he played at frickin' 9 o'clock and that I had missed him. (I saw new XL Records signing Friendly Fires, though, and they were a good post-punk band). Bummer. The next week was the Boredoms' 88 drums insanity, which I wouldn't have missed for the Kinks in their prime. So the anticipation was a little bit high by week three. The Echo was crowded, so I wasn't the only one eager to check out the bearded one, who's the size of Prince and Beck and kinda looks like Devendra.
Before the show, one of Levi's minions handed out a few dozen flashlights to the crowd, and asked us to light the singer during the first song, which was a very simple but cool idea, and made for a nice interactive experience. I was standing in front when Pop Levi first walked onstage. He was wearing a cool red patterned shirt, white pants and dainty red Keds shoes for girls, which I immediately decided to focus on with my flashlight. Those shoes glowed for the duration of the song, and they did little tippy-toe moves while up above the singer strummed his electric guitar.
Pop Levi makes synth-rock, but not like the Klaxons or Holy Fuck, which chomp at the edges of punk and dance structures. Rather, our little hero trades in big rock riffs that are combined with programmed beats and basslines, kinda like if Marc Bolan was using a Korg rather than bongos on those early Tyrannosaurus Rex albums. The riff is the song, the song the riff, and the chorus trumps the verses and we all rejoice when it arrives. His best new song, “Dita Dimoné,” from the fantastic forthcoming Never Never Love CD, sounds tailor-made for a hip car commercial or as the intro to a party movie, with a monster synth line, a rhythm guitar strum for the ages, and big-ass handclaps that pound on the two and four. These were his tools, and Pop aptly and impressively built something solid and lasting from them. Plus, he's a very good guitar player who understands the importance of a quality grimace. Behind him the whole time was gentleman who looked like he was in Flock of Seagulls, who stood there motionless – save the occasional head-nod – and delivered the beats.
The Parson Red Heads, god bless 'em, are an able and often engaging band, write big songs with big Southern California harmonies and sunny day, dream away melodies, but I have to say (echoing something my colleague Jeff Weiss has opined), I wish they'd start drinking whiskey or something, start getting into fist fights onstage, develop some creative acrimony, maybe discover heroin for a few months and take up smoking Pall Malls. Send them to the clink for a month, make them a little bit crooked. Do something to dirty them up a bit. I want feedback and broken strings is what I'm saying. I want someone to kick over the drums and storm offstage while guitar clang drives white noise through the room. More Velvet Underground, less Mamas & Papas.
The white clothes don't help, but they're fitting: like a bride, the Red Heads feel virginal, fresh, new, and at this point I want them to start wearing black leather, or at least denim. Because I was looking at them, enjoying their somewhat psychedelic guitar rock, which suggests the Flaming Lips, early Pink Floyd and the mid-80s Paisley Underground bands like Rain Parade, and gazing at their whites wondering, 'How many white outfits do they have, and aren't they sick of them?” Sometimes a shtick which works for a while becomes constraining, and in the end those whites become like straightjackets. (It feels very 2004, too). That said, the last three songs of the set were pretty messy and dirty in a good way, which leads me to believe that maybe they're onto something.
Or maybe I was just missing the Redheads' dancer, shown here, who had to rock it from the crowd because the Echo's stage couldn't hold his righteous moves.