Written by Ace Ubas, Photos by Marcello Ambriz
A typical Fourth of July weekend usually involves beer, BBQ, and fireworks. But on this past Fourth of July weekend, hundreds of people flocked to the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles on Saturday night to see the New York-based trio Blonde Redhead. Touring in support of their latest album Penny Sparkle (released via 4AD Records), the musical veterans looked to prove to be the real highlight of the long weekend.
The Mississippi-based Bass Drum of Death kicked-off the night without an actual bass drum of death, unfortunately. But what they did bring was a raw, garage-punk sound that got everyone’s adrenaline rolling. With a 30-minute set, they played through each song continuously nearly playing their entire debut album GB City (released via Fat Possum). Drummer Colin Sneed and vocalist-guitarist John Barrett brought along an unidentified third member for the show, playing songs like “GB City,” “Nerve Jamming,” “Heart Attack Kid,” and “I Could Never Be Your Man.” These songs are great examples of their gritty, straight-forward approach to rock ‘n’ roll with barreling and pounding punk beats with garage rock (and at times 50s rock) guitar riffs. In summary, if you want to have a “rockin’ good time,” then this is the band to see. They’re not well-known in the convoluted lo-fi rock scene, but they are definitely one of the better acts to see live.
The Montreal-based quartet known as The Luyas provided a shift in musical style when it was their turn to keep the momentum going. Prior to the show, I was completely unfamiliar with their music. But they immediately turned me into a fan with their eclectic style, charisma, and a happy-go-lucky stage presence.
Playing primarily from their latest album Too Beautiful to Work (released via Dead Oceans), they piqued the crowd’s interest when lead vocalist Jesse Stein (who could pass off as St. Vincent’s twin) was armed with an unusual 12-string zither-like instrument called the Moodswinger, while Pietro Amato hoisted a French horn that he used with different effects pedals. It’s really hard to describe their music, but orchestral pop seems like the closest term I can come up with. What is certain is their fun demeanor on-stage. Whether it’s giving each other high-fives during songs, giving playful shoves to one another, or two people playing the keyboard on opposite sides, this is a band that loves to let loose without dropping the quality in their music. The crowd was definitely into their music as Stein exclaimed that it was their most fun Los Angeles show that they’ve had. After their set, I couldn’t help myself from feeling envious of the city of Montreal as they produce another great band yet again (as if they didn’t have enough already!)
With the lights dimmed, the velvet curtain lifted as Blonde Redhead took the stage to the heavily-excited fans in attendance. The stage was elegantly decorated with flickering lights that mimicked flames, providing a warm atmosphere before they began playing their opening number, “Black Guitar.” Shrouded in fog, the duet by Makino and Amedeo Pace was one of the slower songs they performed. The simplified, arpeggiated guitar riff combined with the subtle synths created an ambient, otherworldly environment.
The tempo picked up on “Here Sometimes,” where the bouncy synth-pads and electronic drum samples combined with Simone Pace’s pulsating drums and Makino’s hypnotic swaying mesmerized the crowd. The trio time-traveled a few decades back into the new wave era with the Depeche Mode-esque “Not Getting There.” While it was probably the most haunting song of their set with ghostly vocals, reverberated guitars, and modulated synths, the upbeat drumming got most of the crowd to dance.
When Makino picked up her guitar, the trio played material from older albums such as fan-favorite 23 and Misery is a Butterfly. The loudest cheers came from more shoegaze songs like “Spring and by Summer Fall” and set-closer “23” where the reverb-drenched dual guitars created a blistering wall of sound through the ears of the bobbing crowd. On songs where Amedeo took over vocals such as “SW,” “Falling Man,” and “Will There Be Stars,” he shows that he can be a more than capable front-man by singing with such raw emotion passion. Other songs they played in their set included: “Elephant Woman,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “My Plants Are Dead,” and “Spain.”
For their encore, they played three songs from three different albums such as “Melody of a Certain Three” and “Silently” before ending the night with “Penny Sparkle.”
Overall, the night showcased three very musically diverse bands, which I haven’t witnessed in quite a while. Bass Drum of Death and The Luyas are definitely two bands to keep an eye on, while Blonde Redhead have proven that being together for nearly 18 years hasn’t created any wear-and-tear on the quality of their performance. Unfortunately, this show marked the end of their tour. If you were unable to catch this tour, make up for it by seeing any of these bands the next time they roll into your town.