For Check Yo Ponytail 2â€™s latest show on Tuesday night at the Echoplex in Los Angeles, they brought together acts ranging from darkwave (Cold Showers) and psychedelic rock (Violens) to ear-blistering (or damaging) shoegaze garage rock (headliners DIIV). While the show itself didnâ€™t draw a crowd big enough to meet Echoplex standards, the only thing that mattered was that the acts put on a show good enough for the crowd to enjoy with each playing a diverse style of music.
It was difficult to get into the Los Angeles-based band Cold Showers because initially, they sound like another chip off the old Joy Division block. Itâ€™s hard for bands to play in the vein of the gothic post-punk/synth-wave style without sounding like a bad rip-off of the forefathers. But with a keen focus on their performance, the band (which features highly impressive drummer Jessie Clavin of Bleached/ex-Mika Miko fame) actually stands out on their own. Yes, the influences are blatantly obvious, but they manage to put their own spin to it. Their sweeping guitar melodies are reminiscent of Twin Shadowâ€™s retro take of the 80s, playfully intertwining with the stout rhythm section. Clavinâ€™s tight drumming held the songs together and gave them a stronger pop while Jonathan Weinbergâ€™s impressive baritone borders between Editorsâ€™ Tom Smith, Cold Caveâ€™s Wes Eisold and the late Ian Curtis (albeit loosely) â€“ and thatâ€™s saying something. Cold Showers put on solid performance that warrants their upcoming debut Love and Regret a listen.
New Yorkâ€™s Violens took the stage after and brought their psychedelic pop to the forefront. While their album True was a bit underwhelming, their live set proved to be otherwise. As expected, their set was carried by the dueling guitars of Jorge Elbrecht and Myles Matheny who seemed to feed off each other after every song. Their guitars harmonized really well and didnâ€™t drown out one another. There were moments on multiple songs where they harmonized the lyrics by singing different lines at the same time. While at times it would emphasize the jangled, reverb-heavy guitar work, it mostly came off as muddied and inaudible that got drowned out in the mix. The highlights came during songs â€œTotally Trueâ€ and â€œWhen to Let Go,â€ exemplifying the band at their best: early 80s dream-pop with distinguishable guitars and infectious melodies ala Lush.
By the time New York Cityâ€™s DIIV took the stage, it was just past midnight which prompted vocalist/guitarist Zachary Cole Smith to joke â€œI know you all have school tomorrow so weâ€™re going to play a little fast and get this over with.â€ Coming from him, itâ€™s a bit ironic that he says that because on stage, he looks about the size of a high school student in an oversized sweater. But with his guitar he definitely plays a lot larger than his size suggests. Smith might be best known for his work in the lo-fi garage rock band Beach Fossils, but with DIIV, he has a musical outlet can potentially surpass the former.
DIIV (which also consists of guitarist Andrew Bailey, bassist Devin Perez, and drummer Colby Hewitt) began their set that paralleled the sequencing of their debut album Oshin. Opening with the instrumental intro â€œ(Druun)â€ and following with â€œPast Livesâ€ and â€œHuman,â€ they made it clear what their live M.O. is all about: fucking loud and fucking fast. Those two traits were exemplified best on â€œAir Conditioning.â€ The first half of the former is carried by a heavy, undulating bass and krautrock-esque percussion. But they extended the song a couple of minutes longer that morphed into as a psychedelic jam session. Smith ended up adding a couple of new lines to the song and showing off his ferociousness by screaming some notes, as if the music couldnâ€™t get any louder (not a complaint, mind you). While guitars primarily serve as the foundation of DIIVâ€™s songs, â€œDousedâ€ is the lone exception with a striking bass groove that stays prominent throughout the duration of the song. Knowing that the bass could still be heard added much-needed depth to their set.
What made DIIV one of my favorite new acts this year is how they can maximize the brevity and repetitiveness of the lyrics by surrounding it impressive musicianship such as on â€œHow Long Have You Known.â€ The minimal and catchy lyrics are enough to get your attention and swim around in your head for awhile, but itâ€™s the blistering and crisp guitar-work that gets you to simply rock the hell out.
â€œThis is our slowest songâ€ stated Smith before diving into â€œWait.â€ On record, yes itâ€™s their slowest song, but definitely not live. Judging by the mosh pit and crowd surfing going on throughout their set, itâ€™s best that DIIV doesnâ€™t have a slow song. Although one guy that performed a crowd dive couldâ€™ve worked on his form as Smith judgingly quipped, â€œpathetic stage dive.â€
What I thought would be a shoegaze/dream-pop-esque set turned into basically a psychedelic punk rock show, which was not a bad thing at all; itâ€™s one hell of a surprise. The only other surprise was that their headlining set ran under 40 minutes. But what can you do when youâ€™ve already gone through your catalog? Even one of the members admitted that â€œwe actually donâ€™t even have any more songs.â€ But at least they tossed in a raucous cover of Nirvanaâ€™s (a band that inspired their namesake) â€œBambi Suicideâ€ to fill-out their set.
Any time a band such as DIIV steps on the gas with their music in a live setting in contrast to their album and not hit any bumps along the way is an impressive feat. OK, thatâ€™s not entirely true since the blaringly loud guitars did tend to drown out the vocals a couple of times. But even in a sea of reverb and delay, the melodies still floated to the surface without losing a breath. If you ask me, I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if DIIV swims further than Beach Fossils in the near future (OK Iâ€™m done with the water-related puns, I promise).