Great Northern @ Spaceland, 8/10/07

It’s 10:15 p.m. inside Spaceland’s back bar, a cool 45 minutes after we arrived and about an hour until Great Northern will rock this crowd. Four beers, three cigarettes, and two celebrity sightings in the books, we look around and think that this might be the best bar in Los Angeles.

Celebrity sightings aside (Kirk, from Gilmore Girls and that white, Abercrombie-looking dude who dated the white, Barbie-looking chick on Scrubs), we think about the elements you need for a perfect bar:

1) Alcohol. Check. They have both PBR and Chimay on tap, not to mention a slosherific variety of hard liquor which the bartendress surely has been sampling.

2) Freedom. Check. When asked about the smoking policy, the dashing, intoxicated [allegedly–Ed.] bartendress said, “Eh, I don’t care.” When used cigarette was placed on the bar, on a napkin, said bartendress took it and tossed it on the floor. No ashtrays? No problem!

3) Great music. Check, and check. Well insulated from Spaceland proper, a sampling of the back bar’s beat box features Velvet Underground, Johnny Cash, and Band of Horses. Not happy with that? Trek down five steps and listen to the reason you showed up.

4) An assortment of people. Check. Surrounded by old dudes looking for young ass, celebrities that never had their prime, half of Great Northern, hipsters, locals, local hipsters, whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, the back bar had a great collection of eye candy and just the right amount of color to make things interesting and pleasant.

5) Entertainment. Check. Not content to plow yourself with liquor and cigarettes? Don’t feel like talking? Try the pool table and video games.

Lest this review focus on the bar and not the band (though both are an integral part of the Spaceland experience), we made our way down to the show, where Great Northern was slowly making their way on stage. Guitarist and co-vocalist Solon Bixler was first, followed by vocalist, keyboardist, and tambourinist, Rachel Stolte. Both take to a stage inundated with evocative reminders of their dreamy debut, Trading Twilight for Daylight–white Christmas lights wrap around microphone stands, red lights drape Davey Latter’s drum kit, and the amp behind bassist Ashley Dzerigian populated by red, parlor lights.

The mood is set and the set is about to begin. They tear through the first two songs of the album, in order. Both “Our Bleeding Hearts” and “Just a Dream” had a certain homegrown pop in which Latter’s drum and Bixler’s lush guitar put everyone at ease. When Stolte sings: “Will this thing get off/The ground and let you go/Home [?],” her question was answered by the roars of applause from the nearly sold-out ballroom.

They moved on to an extended version of “Telling Lies.” Often, when bands hit the road to tour in support of their debut effort, their songs sound flat, unoriginal, an exact replica of their album. This may not be the worst thing to devoted followers, who might revel in the comfort of sameness. However, it can have the unintended consequence of calling into question the musicians’ creativity. With the extra minute of gnashing guitar from Bixler and Dzerigian’s driving, moody bass, they established themselves, for the moment at least, as more than just mere musicians, but artists.

Despite constant approval from an audience that soaked up Stolte’s constant chatter of road-weariness, though, the Los Angeles-based Great Northern still managed to fall into the tired trap of replication. Twilight is a promising debut, full of far-off landscape sounds that push and pull your senses in two different directions, from reality to dreamland and back. However, some songs, like “Low is a Height,” are better suited for a trip down LSD rather than in front a packed audience expecting to rock out; it’s no wonder that such numbers fall flat in front of a live audience.

Height’s flatness not withstanding, the band soared to an inspired ending. Joined by members of opening band The Comas, Great Northern closed with “Into the Sun.” The extended version showed exactly why Los Angeles should be excited about one of the newest members to the indie-rock scene. Like most of their songs, “Into the Sun” exists in a pensive duality, as Stolte angelically croons: “All we want is a lonely house/A lonely bed/To call our own,” the real estate on the stage was as sparse as Malibu in the summer.

Furthermore, if the lyrics existed in a state of solemnity, the mood on the stage was anything but. Dzerigian’s bass crept higher and higher, as Latter slammed the hell out of his drum kit, and Bixler, Stolte and friends chorused “It’s just like staring into the sun” over and over until the home town band said goodbye to the home town crowd, sending them off towards a cool LA night.

With the masses buzzing outside, one attendee gushed about a band she had only recently heard about. “It was amazing,” said Bekah. “It felt really… homely.”


1. Intro
2. Our Bleeding Hearts
3. Just a Dream
4. Telling Lies
5. A Sun A Sound
6. Low Is a Height
7. City of Sleep
8. Home
9. The Middle
10. Into The Sun