El Rey, October 11, 2007
When the red curtains parted, Zach Rogue stood on the drum riser pumping both fists in the air like a prize fighter, while Pat Spurgeon pounded out the beat (and the too long intro) to “Harmonium,” the fist track off their new album, Asleep at Heaven's Gate. It's hardly a song brimming with optimism. As upbeat and driving as the tune sounds, the lyrics tell another story, ““All your dreams thrown in the trash / You were born into war / You were taught not to ask / For every single possibility.”
Still, the band looked confident and excited, heartily welcomed by the eager, but not sold-out, crowd. Maybe it had something to do with the last time they had played L.A. as Rogue explained from the stage.
“Safari Sam's… I was sick.”
“We were all sick,” said Gram LeBron in orange shirt, orange pants, orange tie, and Charlie Manson beard, playing an orange guitar.
“Sick in the head,” answered Rogue.
It's reportedly been a tough road to the new album for a band that for my money was making indie-pop records just as hook-laden and joyous sounding as their SubPop label-mates The Shins over the past few years.
But SubPop is no longer their label. Their new home is Brushfire (Jack Johnson, G. Love, Money Mark) and the reviews for Asleep at Heaven's Gate have been, well… mixed.
If it's not as strong overall as 2005's Descended Like Vultures and 2003's Out of the Shadow, Asleep still contains several excellent songs, as good as any they've done, like “Lullaby,” “Lake Michigan” and “Chicago X 12,” most of which made their way into Thursday's set. After performing the new track
“Lullaby,” “Christians in Black,” someone yelled, “That song's perfect!” which Rogue admitted was the nicest thing he's heard anyone say in a long time.
Illness still haunted the band to some degree. Rogue Wave's guitar tech was sick. “He managed to get the guitars on stage, but that's all,” Rogue said, which meant a lot of time was spent with him swapping guitars out and tuning them, cutting into the band's momentum. Any spare time could easily be spent staring in amazement at the array of instruments surrounding LeBron. In addition to harmonizing with Rogue's vocals on most songs, he had half a dozen synthesizers, a tambourine, his own drum kit to add oomph to Sprugeon's, and a couple of guitars (orange, as noted) squirreled away back there. He could barely move, encased by it all. Sometimes he seemed not to know which hand to use on which instrument, picking them up and dropping them mid-song. It was confusing just to watch. All bands should be lucky enough to have such a secret weapon in their live show arsenal.
Much audience love gushed forth for songs from the earlier albums, particularly for “Bird on a Wire,” and “Publish My Love,” and even bigger cheers for that song's line, “I mixed up the distance of a miracle mile,” perched as we were on that stretch of Wilshire Boulevard. Maybe there was a jerkiness to the music that the records smooth over, and maybe some songs suffered from slightly meandering openings before getting into the meat of the tune, but if the other choice was that the band break up and not record or tour anymore, I'll take this. It may not have been a knock-out punch, but Rogue Wave wins by decision tonight.
Openers Port O'Brien are young and have some potentially strong songs about Cambria (the town), Alaska, fishing and finding your way in life. But they need a little more time to polish the numbers and make better use of their adorable banjo player and singer, strangely, named Cambria.
Rogue Wave performs live on Morning Becomes Eclectic today (Friday, October 12) at 11:15 am. Visit KCRW's site to watch and listen live and later for the archived performance.