Last night the pop came in three varieties at the Echo: traditional, experimental, and extra sweet. It was almost like being in Galco's, something for everyone.
The first band up was AB & The Sea, who were dressed up prim and proper with collared shirts and cardigans.
These San Franciscans put together one of the most polished sets of early 1960s pop that has ever come out of those speakers. It was almost as if The Wonders had jumped out of the screen and onto the stage. With solid three part harmonies, twinkling piano, interesting, but unobtrusive guitar licks, and a lead singer who looked like Prince Charming it was almost as if they had been conjured up in some Hollywood back lot.
Actually it was a little unnerving because it was picture perfect. Every element from the hand clapping, to the tambourine shakes, to the lyrics sounded like they had be cut out of a manual that said “How to Start a Rock Band” that was written in 1963.
Don't get me wrong. If there was such a manual, these guys followed the instructions to the letter, they sounded tight, but none of it sounded new. Like a toy that has been perfectly preserved in its original wrapping for nostalgia, AB & The Sea have a sound that makes people feel like they've just stepped out of a recent episode of Mad Men. One can only hope that one day they'll drop the manual and venture out on their own.
The band that followed had no such trouble. If Brooklynites, Hooray For Earth, were nervous about their first show in Los Angeles they sure didn't show it. It was one of those rare moments when a band arrives in town with only a gorgeous EP to their name, and no one has any idea what is going happen. Was it possible that they could create the lush vocals in their single “Surrounded By Your Friends” or the giant wall of synthesized melodies in “Comfortable Comparable”? The short answer is no, not really, what they did was even more interesting.
For starters they pushed the drums to the forefront. Silver headphones adorning his head with his long hair flying around drummer, Joseph Ciampini's hands pounded on the skins mercilessly providing a solid heartbeat on which the rest of the band laid down their fuzzy guitars and ghostly harmonies. Secondly they made their guitars big enough to compete with the synthesizer creating this sibling rivalry within the songs, which is not on their EP in which the synth and the vocals reign supreme. The result is the live show sounds like a garage interpretation of their recorded work which is fascinating to hear unfold.
Hooray for Earth is one of those bands that throw the kitchen sink at you and somehow all the parts come together in a gorgeous patchwork of sound. Each song is chock full of different ideas that appear to be completely unrelated at the beginning, but by the middle they begin to fuse together in unexpected ways, until the giant finale which makes you wonder why you ever doubted their vision. It will be really exciting to hear what they do for their first album.
Closing out the night was the crowd favorite, Philly's own Jukebox the Ghost. The three piece opened their set with their first single, “Schizophrenia” off their sophomore release which came out a couple weeks ago. The second the first notes floated over the crowd the kids in the front row began to jump up and down in excitement. With only a piano, a guitar, and a drum kit, Jukebox created a set that sounded twice that big. There was no slacking in this band. Each member looked as if they were playing as fast as they possibly could, gleaming with sweat in the pink and red lights, all three beaming away as if they had just won the lottery.
Perhaps I am a curmudgeonly old fart, but the pop that came out of that band made my teeth start aching. Fueled by elaborate piano solos which would make Billy Joel smile and high sweet harmonies Paul Simon would approve of, Jukebox the Ghost's set was reminiscent of a prom band in an ABC Family made for TV movie: all sugar, all the time.
Even when the subject matter was dark like in “Static To The Heart” when lead singer Ben Thornewill sings that “We're gonna burn this motherfucker down because/Sometimes we burn and steal and rape and kill and sacrifice/Just to remind ourselves that were still alive,” the music countered with images of bunnies and sunshine and rainbows.
How can you take a band seriously if tempo is so peppy? Someone needs to lend these boys some grunge albums, fast.