Earlimart/Siggy/Voxhaul Broadcast/Light FM at the Echoplex, 5/17/08

I got to the Echoplex around nine, and it was shockingly easy to get into the venue: no line, and no bouncer searching my groin area for switchblades, though he did act like I was a total moron for trying to give him my ticket before showing him my ID. Guess I had the order wrong.

Light FM (god, I wish they’d change their name to “Hat FM”) were on stage when I came in. Their radio promo moniker was actually quite fitting—their songs all had the same tired indie rock arrangements we’ve heard on the radio for the last four years, not exactly bedazzling the two-dozen early birds sipping their vodka and Red Bulls. The keyboardist distinguished herself with a couple interesting melody lines, but otherwise I felt Light FM were trying desperately to appeal to my demographic by riffing on just the right two chords, and it was not to be.

Siggy were up next, and though they wear their age on their sleeves (but hey, they all have Ph.D.’s and just do this as a hobby), they were probably my favorites of the night. Galen, their singer, has a heart-wrenching voice reminiscent of Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell, Alan Vega, or just about any of your Max’s Kansas City types. Yet there’s a vibrato there and power and a pain that really seemed to touch even the most jaded sweater-vest collector in the audience. Just when I thought their thudding bass and percolating guitar sounds veered a little too far into U2 territory, the groove shifted into almost a Raw Power direction, and finally they even did a splendid cover of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” Galen’s cat-growls mewing to a halt mid-word almost like Darby Crash. Good stuff.

Voxhaul Broadcast played next. Thin, tattered Live Aid T-shirt, big hair, good looking guys. But they kept serving up tunes like indie iceberg lettuce, with no flavor to distinguish one from the next. Guys, if I can’t remember any of your songs, I can’t review you.

Finally Earlimart played, and all the partygoers in the smoke hole outside came in to join the throng and watch, including Adam Goldberg and his breathtakingly gorgeous arm candy. The watchwords of the evening were “vocal harmonies”—either the PA or the sound man at the Echoplex has gotten a lot better, so you could really hear Aaron and Ariana’s voices blending together as smooth as butter. Sometimes, when men and women harmonize, the two different timbres of vocal chord sound disparate, but not here. Each song allowed Ariana’s melancholy to accentuate Aaron’s yearning, and when it was good, it was great.

The instrumentation was pretty impressive, too. I guess they’ve gotten over their flirtation with backup orchestras, because last night they played their complex arrangements with just four people, Ariana sometimes abandoning her bass (No bass! The Doors had no bass! You see, the gypsies had no homes!) to become a dueling keyboardist. Whoever the other keyboardist was, he was pretty awesome as well, and either he or Aaron kept triggering weird interstitial music between songs, sometimes full samples of classical-sounding ditties, and other times just the emanating repetition of whooshing echoey machine noises in a metallic loop. And Aaron let himself stretch out on the guitar, ending three or four songs with a blistering guitar crescendo quite a bit more rockin’ than the meat of most of their songs.

Aaron practically apologized for playing primarily new stuff—the show was kind of a test-run for touring behind their upcoming album, Hymn and Her, which meant I didn’t recognize most of the songs. In fact, at one point, Aaron started singing “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and I thought “oh no, please tell me they don’t do a U2 cover on the new album!” But it was all a joke, and they instead jumped into another beautiful love song.

For an encore, they let Ariana sing “Happy Alone,” an older track on which she sings lead and pretty much plays the whole song herself, just piano with a bit of guitar and Aaron’s background vocals in the mix. It made me wish they’d give her more of a spotlight—she has a dark and lovely voice, not Joan Baez’s by any means, but evocative of the same kind of hope and sadness ol’ Joanie had. In fact, the whole show, I was pretty much concentrating on her. She seemed to be having the most fun, yet her voice conveyed the most pain. Here’s hoping the band gets even sparser so that she can shine a little more in the mix.

After the last note rang out, I virtually dashed out the door and followed the pied piper pilgrimage under the bridge, across Glendale Blvd, and up the piss-soaked cement staircase to Sunset to go to the Echo proper. I have no idea why the Echoplex makes you do that, when they have a perfectly good staircase connecting the two clubs indoors that they instead rope off and put eight security guards around. But whatever, I needed the exercise after my three Jamesons on the rocks.

Hang the DJ’s at the Echo was theoretically spinning all nineties music, which was fun to dance to. But I noticed that as they started edging deeper and deeper into the eighties stuff, a lot more people hit the dance floor, which I think says something about the nineties as a decade. I wish they’d played some early nineties techno (how perfect would Alpha Team’s “Speed Racer” be at a time like this?), but I think that’s just me showing that I’m an old geezer who shouldn’t be dancing at all-ages clubs anyhow.