Two LA bands, two nights in NY
Out of town in NY, I decide to check out a couple of LA’s local bands to see how they go down with the crowds, and, just maybe, gauge how the LA scene is representing nationally in general.
First up is Helen Stellar, who are technically from Chicago, but now are based in Los Angeles. The marquee lists them as ’from LA,’ so we have to consider them embassadors to our fine city when they play out. They’ve had some modest success, had a song on a Cameron Crowe soundtrack and some KCRW play. They do a kind of UK shoegaze/noise pop thing that I remember enjoying someplace, some night and it’s 100 yards from where I’m staying, so why the hell not check them out.
They take the stage a few minutes in front of 20 people, if that many. At $8 a head cover charge, there’s no way in hell they are making any money tonight. I thought they could maybe draw a 100 or so just on some word of mouth. Some of this could be due to the venue, Pianos in the Lower East Side, which has its own bag of issues to contend with. While HS are not all that original, they work within a shoegaze/noise pop mode that tends to draw curious listeners purely on genre recognition. This can probably be directly attributed to the growing void left by the long absence of My Bloody Valentine. They get started with a slow keyboard drone, which fails to get them off the ground and probably killed their chance at hooking the sparse crowd right out of the gate. They proceed to work through their set, airing out tunes with that loud/quiet/loud dynamic, but songs themselves are indistinct and unmemorable, even as genre pieces. Each of the three members of Helen Stellar are very good musicians, but their music is fairly unchallenging. I left with a few more to go because I don’t need these dudes blowing out (any more of) my hearing with the invitable set ending feedback. Even with the some drunken yelps and polite applause, I get the sense that they may as well have not even bothered playing NY.
The next night we have LA’s long running The Adored. Like Helen Stellar, The Adored traffic in genre, although theirs is more of an uptempo Brit Pop/UK punk, which has more recently started to pick up that trendy disco punk beat and Franzy riffing. The Adored fare far better with their crowd of several hundred; they have landed the plum spot of opening for the Buzzcocks in Brooklyn. Again here, the band is billed as ’The Adored (from LA).’ They play a crowd pleasing set and there are some pockets of high enthusiasm in the crowd. They are a tight unit and their frontman Ryan is a star with all the right moves. But their UK influence comes off as charade, especially when opening for the real deal, the goddamned Buzzcocks. It is fun and disposable, a guilty pleasure for good for a night out, maybe a bit like a Vegas club act. But I am ambivalent at the thought of them being included in any list of LA bands.
Granted 2 bands in 2 nights isn’t exactly a scientific sampling, but I’m left with the suspicion that there are but a few new bands coming out of LA doing new and/or exciting things musically. If bands insist on operating in modes of pastiche and homage, what will signify an “LA sound”? Not that there needs to be just one sound, of course. But just to have a few sounds and/or bands spring to mind immediately would suffice. Or just a scene, as Seattle had or Montreal might have now. And don’t give me some “wide variety that is a reflection of the city’s diversity” bullshit.
Quick–right now, list 5 LA bands that will “make it” on a national level. I’m thinking they must be out there, but I can’t list them offhand. I do not mean your own favorite local bands. We are handicapping picks here, like stocks. Of course we all have our personal favorites, with some of whom we might even be personal friends, but who we also know deep down inside aren’t really going to “make it” in any sense of the phrase. So which 5 LA bands have a wide enough popular appeal, with which they will be able tour and sell records nationally, on say a club venue circuit. A band which people will refer to as ’XXX from LA.’ Got 5? Who are they? So you’ve got The Vacation, Cold War Kids, and uh… The Ettes? The Oohlas? Hello Stranger? Autolux? Tsar? Manwhore?!
There are some sparks of hope in the local scene. The 60’s-influenced sound of the Beechwood Sparks and their affiliated projects seems to be broadening and the DJ Nobody/Mystic Chords of Memory LP might be the finest record yet to come out of that scene. There is a new record from The Tyde coming out soon; maybe this is the one where they transcend their influences and meld them into something new. The aforementioned Cold War Kids and maybe even The Little Ones seem to be on the verge of something. Next week local scene stalwarts Silversun Pickups and Irving are out here. Let us know how they go over, NY.