Last night SoCal favorites The Soft Pack played a headlining show at the Echoplex after a long national tour. “It's so good to be home!” announced guitarist Matty McLoughlin at the beginning of the set. As homecomings go it wasn't the most raucous due to the fact that the band went on just half an hour before midnight, and the crowd had just sat through three openers with varying degrees of patience. However, when the band got cooking they slowly began to shimmy like sleepwalkers awaking from a dream.
The first band that graced the stage that evening was a complete surprise to everyone, including the bookers. Apparently no one knew they were going to be on the bill until they showed up with all their gear and people had to scramble to move the bill forward. All the residual grumpiness that accumulated in line when people realized that they would have to wait even longer for the headliners evaporated as soon as they got inside the venue. Graham Forest as it turns out is quite lovely.
The three-piece consisted simply of an acoustic electric guitar, a violin, and a drum kit, and produced a set of charming Celtic inspired folk songs with dark foreboding lyrics. The kind of lyrics one would imagine sailors singing in pubs before taking off for new uncharted waters. Although in this case it was Forrest's foray into uncharted relationships which he sang in a clear strong voice without reservation. It was also, unfortunately their last show ever as that outfit. “This is our unpublicized funeral,” Forrest announced grinning. He then assured us that the band would reform as something else. I can only hope that it does.
Those warm encouraging feelings dissolved into thin air as soon as Purling Hiss took the stage. These guys looked like they had just rolled out of their van and wanted to make as much noise as possible. Something that I am usually a big fan of, however, not if the noise in question sounds very much like a high school talent show. The set was an amalgamation of giant guitar riffs, huge drums, incoherent vocals, and very little attention to melody. Basically these guys were dedicated to jamming with their buddies and showing off their biggest baddest (generally generic) guitar solos that they could up with, which is fine if they were in their garage at home. To inflict this half baked mess on a crowd is just cruel.
All the negative energy from the Hiss set evaporated from the room as soon as Kurt Vile and The Violators took the stage. Hailing from Philladelphia, this long haired quartet had spent the better part of the evening lulling the crowd to sleep with their mellow, psychedelic jams. Playing a set heavy laden with songs from his latest release Childish Prodigy, Vile's mumbled words were lost in the giant droning guitars which filled the stage like a giant warm blanket kept together by a plodding hypnotic beat. This was not music to make out to. This was not music to dance to. This was music that was best on drugs laying spread eagle on your living room floor. If you were not on drugs, however, the set was a seemingly endless ocean of sludgy guitars that sloshed between your ears and slowly rocked you unconscious.
There was no actually dancing in the Echoplex until the first strains of “Right and Wrong” drifted over the crowd. With very little fanfare, The Soft Pack took the stage and woke up the crowd like a beach-y garage rock Prince Charming erasing all memory of the sets that came before them. Brian Hill's hands flew over his drum kit maintaining a feverish pace for the rest of the gang to keep up. New hits (“Answer to Yourself”) and old favorites (“Extinction”) were greeted with delight by the crowd who had been waiting all evening to shake the dust off and get down.