See more photos in Timothy Norris' slideshow, "The Horrors, The Stepkids @ El Rey Theatre."
The Horrors and The Stepkids
El Rey Theatre
Better than: Squeezing into The Black Tubes' frontman's trousers.
"Who Can Say," from The Horrors' sophomore album, Primary Colours, is everything you never wanted to hear from a lover. It opens with the sort-of apology that lets you know nothing good will come out of the conversation ("I never meant for you to get hurt"). It moves into strange attempts make it sound like this is not going to be the worst moment of your life ("And though it's hard for me to say/ I know you're better off this way"). And then there's the brutal truth ("And when I told her another girl had caught my eye/ She cried"). It's a song so crushing, it could make you want to press the skip button, but you probably can't because it sounds like an early 1960s pop song fed through a Jesus and Mary Chain machine. It's the song you can't shake.
At the El Rey on Thursday night, "Who Can Say" was clearly the fan favorite of the night. Played quite early in the set, the immediately recognizable number drew a packed roomful of loud screams, that seemed to be trying to say, "It's okay, you can break my heart."
While "Who Can Say" elicited the heartiest response, the real treat of the show was the way The Horrors balanced pieces from their latest album, Skying, with those from Primary Colours. The band alternated between the two albums for the duration of the set.
They avoided, then, material from their 2007 death rockin' debut full-length, Strange House, and it's probably better that way. Though Strange House has its charm, the band has evolved tremendously since then. Primary Colours, in a way, feels like the band's true debut, taking the garage goth elements of Strange House and twisting them into a noisy, psychedelic gem. Skying moves away from the severity of Primary Colours. It's quite a bit more polished and much less noisy. However, the two albums complement each other nicely live, particularly when the band is essentially playing one Skying track followed by one Primary Colours track. "Endless Blue," a particularly gorgeous piece from Skying with a lengthy, breathtaking intro, sounded amazing when placed between "Three Decades" and "Sea Within a Sea."
In a move that makes The Horrors quite cool, they didn't pull much of an encore waiting game. Instead, they allowed an ambient interlude to play after "Still Life," took a breather and then came back for "Mirror's Image" and "Moving Further Away." It was an honest approach. We know there's going to be an encore. In fact, the encore set is almost always typed up on the set list and taped down next to every mic on stage. The band is going to come back whether or not the crowd is screaming more loudly than they ever have, so you might as well not stop the music completely.
The Stepkids review and The Horrors' set list below.
Those who arrived early got a special surprise with The Stepkids. Hailing from Connecticut and with an album on the way from L.A. label Stones Throw, The Stepkids are the band you absolutely must see as soon as possible. The trio took the stage dressed in all white, and the house lights dimmed to near complete darkness. Swirling, brightly colored images projected off their outfits and the screen behind the group as they moved from one blissfully psychedelic tune to the next. Their harmonies are tight and their rhythms even more so. As the projections moved into shades of blue and green, it felt like the audience had dove headfirst into some funky, underwater paradise. As the set progressed, so did the intensity of the rhythm, until they concluded with "Cup Half Full," a tune so rousing that the crowd seemed almost unprepared for it.
During their set, The Stepkids announced that they're headlining The Echo on October 29. Go! In the meantime, you can check out a mix they made for this tour on Stones Throw's site.
Personal Bias: "The Chokes," featuring The Horrors as a band called The Black Tubes, is one of my favorite episodes of The Mighty Boosh. It's almost as good as "Jungle," but nothing beats Mod Wolves.
The Crowd: A lot of people with really great haircuts.
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Random Notebook Dump: Pre-show music included Black Sabbath. It fit well with the show.
The Horrors' set list is below.