California Wives - Wait a minute, this Chicago band is lead by a singer/guitarist who left a career in medicine to pursue a life in music? I've seen the reverse of that a few times (Radio Birdman members, a drummer I know from a hair-metal band...), but this is a daring move, obvious to all. So, is he off to a good start? Well, he has joined up with a lead guitarist, bassist and drummer that work very well together. They get to tour their debut album around the country with a couple of bands that will draw in huge crowds. And they provided a solid opening set tonight with some quality songs. They merge a British dream pop style with power pop. At times they kept these styles distinct within the song, but the best songs were those that combined those elements. For example, an early song had a great power pop beat that the rhythm section locked into. The vocals were half tough, half pop/emotive. The lead guitarist contributed a long shimmering solo pattern that delicately pushed the song into newer terrain. They closed strong with a good rocker and were very thankful that so much of the sold out crowd was here early to catch their set. I would expect them to grow their audience on this tour and if they continue into the more creative side of their songwriting, they will gain the ability to draw some nice crowds of their own next time around.
Diamond Rings - Toronto native John O'Regan is Diamond Rings and he certainly commands the stage with his sharp blond haircut and all white outfit. He plays some guitar and has electronic drums, bass/keys, and keys/guitar players assisting. It takes me a while to focus as he reminds me of a possible direction my friend Gyn Cameron could have taken if he stayed with his music beyond Dementia Precox. This has a great Midge Ure-Ultravox feel to it or maybe lighter Gary Numan, along with Germanic electronica with a tall charismatic front man. OK, David Bowie certainly comes to mind by now. It heads a little into modern electronic pop (and a short rap), but retains a rather classic gutsy feel. I even like the bouncier pop tunes here. Another fine set of pop music delivered tonight that pulled the crowd in fully.
Stars - One naturally has a tendency to compare Montreal bands to Arcade Fire, especially if they have a dual male and female frontperson set-up. Yet Stars got started first and their particular brand of pop rock has an even easier style to it than that of that slightly more famous band. I wish I was a little more familiar with their music, but thankfully the sound is clean and strong tonight, so while I am listening to some nice but somewhat predictable synth pop backing, I can pick up some intriguingly dark lyrics. And the stellar vocal work also pulls listeners into their world. Clearly this is a smart band at work. In what seems to be typical local pandering, they mention how they think this is the best club they visit. Yet, their website says the same thing, so clearly they do enjoy this DC visit on their extensive tour. The sound quality, the crowd enthusiasm, and even what seems to be a more comfortable amount of space all have me agreeing with them tonight. But the crowd said it better than I ever could with a completely unprovoked sing along to one of their older hits. When pop music comes with some wit and/or creativity (and I will include the opening bands), it makes for a very pleasant evening.
Quote of the Night: From the openers... "The paper plate says 'Tokyo'."