Midnight Movies

Safari Sam’s, January 23

It’s neither midnight, nor the movies. It’s 10:46 at Safari Sam’s. But by delivering both the eeriness of the witching hour, and the atmosphere of heavy cinema, Midnight Movies are living up to their moniker.

Formed in L.A. as a trio in 2002, their configuration was their calling card: Front woman Gena Olivier handled smoky lead vocals while drumming, and her unorthodox multitasking earned them the reputation of being “that band with the chick who sings while she drums.” But last year they added a fourth member, switched up some roles, and recorded their latest album, Lion the Girl (New Line), tracks from which comprised much of Tuesday’s regrettably short set.

With Brigitte Bardot’s liquid liner and Ray Manzarek’s groovy organ licks issuing from her fingertips, a statuesque Olivier holds court center stage behind a keyboard and moans crisp, low vocals, eyelids half closed. Guitarist Larry Schemel ekes out riffs so delicate, they bring to mind a horror film’s haunting chimes of warning, while Ryan Wood lays down foreboding, psychedelic bass. On drums, Sandra Vu’s beats range from loose, powerful swats to stoic marches, while her backing harmonies add further texture to Olivier’s baritone lead. Vu even pops out from behind her kit to rock a flute solo for the set’s closing number, an oddly impassioned French version of the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin,” which has Olivier drumming and crooning in full force back behind the drum kit.

Generally, Olivier remains mysterious and reticent between songs, and the band’s live set offers well-articulated mood rather than a raucous spectacle. But even with limited exposure to the yet-to-be-released new tracks, the appeal is immediate. Leaving the venue, my companion asks, “You know what that music is perfect for?” Getting followed through the woods by a ghost? “No,” she says, “fucking!”

She’s got a point, but keep your pants on — the album’s not out till April.

—Alie Ward

LA Weekly