White Arrows - Taking the stage only a half hour after the club opened is this LA-based 5-piece. They feature a couple of guitars and a keyboardist/eclectronica guy. The immediately striking feature, which really becomes the most fascinating part of their sound is the vocal work. One guitarist takes the first lead and sings a lot like veteran LA speed punks, the Dickies or Skafish. The band engages in far more of the dreamy and edgier brands of west coast post punk psyche such as the 3 O'Clock or maybe even Dream Theater. As the songs roll along, the keyboardist has a dreamier vocal style and the combination and contrast of vocal work and even the music is quite vibrant. Just as you relax with one vocal line, another one twists you around. The guitars always have an edge that sometimes stays in the background, but can jump to the fore and dominate. Yes, it was dancey and fun, but a lot to listen to which is vital for me interested in dance music. Alas, the club was only about half-full with the tight scheduling, and although some people were probably in need of some time to figure out the contrasts here, the band did build crowd support during their allotted 27 minutes. This was a fine set and is clearly a band to watch.
The Chain Gang of 1974 - From my old home town of Denver, Colorado, comes a band that has nothing to do with 'the Denver sound'. Instead, this four-piece is a solid fit on this bill with its Brit-pop dance electronica rock sound. The first song is pretty fabulous as the guitar work is straight out Led Zep's "The Immigrant Song". The vocals come in a bit like Bauhaus and some other Brit crooners where I know the sound, but I don't know their names. The second cut vocals went more of a Howard Devoto/Magazine style where the irony comes out nicely. But then, they slid into more comfortable brit-pop again. When it rocked a little harder, my interest was higher, but that was not quite often enough. They went over well enough with the crowd, but the support kind of waned as things got more predictable. I think there is some real potential if they can focus on their sharper, edgier, more original songs. Still, a modestly enjoyable set tonight to set up the headliner.
The Naked and the Famous - It is great to see this band make their way from New Zealand to these shores, but based on their popularity and tonight's sold-out show, there is no label underwriting needed here. This five-piece has a full command of their sound and the crowd is stoked. The two vocalists, male and female, work together (or apart) beautifully and bring the life into the music. The electronica and human beats and rhythms seem a bit basic to me and I could really do with out the bass note pummelings that throb deep within my body. I know some people really enjoy that, but it always seems distracting to me. The hooks in the songs are really excellent for the most part and that is why a band should achieve success. It's pretty easy these days to play dance beats, but it still requires skill to hook a crowd in and deliver vibrant vocals. A quick glance at the music I normally go see will show that this pop-rock-dance style is not something I am expert in. But I always enjoy trying to find the better or best of other genres. This band earned my respect tonight. As for the other 1,200 people, I think most of them already knew that and were just thrilled that the band delivered a great live set, playing the music they already loved.
Kudos to... the 9:30 Club for a relaxing enjoyable evening without their usual children running around nagging on every minor or perceived infraction. This was a good crowd tonight and security was there, barely visible, and not needed.