Thursday, October 13
Who goes to a Warpaint show to start a fight?
When the curtain goes up at the Fonda at 10:30 p.m. for the L.A. foursome's final show of this first tour to promote a career-best third LP, Heads Up, co-frontwoman and guitarist Theresa Wayman gleams from ear to ear. The band arrive hungry to deliver two hours of their 12-year-spanning catalog's finest. Their music — consciously challenging to pin down and as obsessed with Cocteau Twins and Massive Attack as it is with J Dilla and Bauhaus — is renowned for its hypnotism, freedom and positivity. It's recently strengthened by the oneness of their union. The band almost ceased to be after their last album's tour completed. But as they sing on new track "By Your Side" ("Got my girls I'm not alone"), it's clear that the past is behind. They're more attuned with one another and glorious to watch.
However, while all is full of love onstage, Wayman summons a premonition for an evening of aggressive vibes elsewhere in the venue with the opening line of "Bees": “Your full moon taunts me …” October's full moon is two days away, but the audience's behavior at the Fonda suggest it's already here. A stench in the air is taking the shine off this homecoming.
Tonight shouldn't be a show where someone pukes three songs in at the barrier. It shouldn't be a show where testosterone-fueled men have their backs to the band, boorishly howling like they're at a football game. It shouldn't be a show that is halted halfway through 2015's "No Way Out" so that Wayman, vocalist/guitarist Emily Kokal, bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg and drummer Stella Mozgawa can discipline the pit in order to continue (“it's cool if you can be peaceful,” says Kokal, before finishing the song). It certainly shouldn't be a show that culminates in a man being arrested in the lobby. At one point a bra is thrown at Kokal, an incident that should be light-hearted and novel at a gig like this. But tonight it just feels odd, distracting and almost disrespectful.
Warpaint refuse to fade like shrinking violets. These days they play tighter, faster and with greater finesse, unfathomably continuing to find new heights. Despite the unruly audience, they come back for an encore after Mozgawa has a rest (“I need to pee!” she says, injecting some comic relief). This should have been a night for hometown heroines, and like heroines, they gave it everything, grooving tall.
Los Angeles has been showing off about Warpaint these past few months. Their silhouettes are elevated high above Sunset and La Brea on a ginormous billboard. Posters of their album artwork are strewn all across the city's Eastside, where the band have been playing since their inception in 2004. Their faces even graced the cover of L.A. Weekly for the first time a few weeks ago.
Some of the crowd is apparently here to show off, too. Before the show, many seek to establish their ownership of the band. Conversations either boast of knowing a friend of a friend, or having invited one of the band members to a party once. Everyone seems eager to stake a claim in them, forgetting to be gracious guests.
Apart from admonishing the pit, Warpaint over-extend their hospitality. Before the release of Heads Up, the foursome were forthcoming about their intentional change of pace, seeking to challenge themselves by bringing the danceability and genre-spanning influences of their live show to the record. How would that translate at shows? In short, Heads Up has the effect of a level-up, smacking a fresh lick of paint on the old material while segueing seamlessly into their bouncier new tunes. They two-step back and forth throughout their entire catalog: from newbie "The Stall" into "Composure" (from debut LP The Fool); from the trip-hoppy "Hi" (from their self-titled second album) into evergreen jams from the Exquisite Corpse EP. Kokal's vocals, pushed to the max on the new LP, are delivered with tender, gutsy swagger and newly unearthed abandon. Her vocal harmonies with Wayman and Lindberg exceed their previous abilities, forming the icing on the pre-established cake of Lindberg and Mozgawa's still-magnetic, powerhouse rhythm section.
Highlights include latest lead single "New Song" and early single "Undertow." "New Song" has surprised many Warpaint diehards, but those who have noted the band's decision to "go pop" clearly forgot the solid gold of "Undertow," their earliest banger. Arguably it's the hit tune they've been chasing ever since its release in 2010. Wayman signals a “left-turn” before playing it, and the audience claps, growing rowdy once more. Mozgawa alleviates the pressure and begins playing the life out of '"Beetles" from their first EP before the rest of the band know what's hit them. “Taking it back to 2004!” says Wayman, turning to the drummer, who gives a shrug and a smile.
When the band lose their way on "Krimson" due to a sound fault, the crowd redeem themselves by keeping the chorus afloat. Wayman is grateful. “You didn't let us fall,” she says, “Thank you for that.”
It's not the crowd who didn't let them fall though. It's Warpaint. Their defiance in the face of a disruptive audience is a testament to how indestructible their resolve is, and how patient their hustle. Together they are a world-class band who execute to the highest degree, no matter the circumstances. Last night, Los Angeles didn't deserve them.
Set list below.
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