The Glass House is one of my favorite local venues, and absolutely worthy of gassing up your car to get out to Pomona. It's tucked in the Artist Colony area of the downtown region, surrounded by bars, restaurants, and galleries to keep you busy both before and after a good show. And although the Ariel Pink show on Saturday the 11th was not exactly packed, it was great to be able to move freely through The Glass House and explore the different territories of the space: the dancefloor, the balcony, the stands on the side. Saturday represented a very mixed crowd of entry-level hipsters, high-school punks, and middle aged people on drugs. By the time this gathering was accumulating, I knew that it was going to be a good night, whether or not the show was of any merit.
The first band up was Bella Novela -- a trio of two Jenny Lewis-ish brunettes in matching sequin tops and a serious-looking homeboy with a great looking guitar. I tend to be a little picky and negative with my local bands, especially when I'm so jealous of their bangs, so I was iffy on Bella Novela at first, but by the second song I was completely won over. Guitarist Jacob Heath seemed a little nervous throughout the set, hanging onto his guitar for dear life so much that it looked like he was choking the neck. But when he was given moments to shine for solos and kickass riffs, I was impressed. These three met at a rock-n-roll summer camp for teenagers, and it shows. They're musicians through and through, but more than that, they give a great live show -- especially the ladies. Jackie Ojeda (whose very name reeks of star power) is completely overcome with her songs in the moment -- singing and screaming into the mic with more conviction than any other frontman that night. At first she seemed aloof in front of the audience, almost Zooey Deschanelish, but before long she was self posessed and cool as a cucumber, only to belt it out in a way that would make Freddie Mercury proud.
As great as they were, it took a concerted effort for me to peel my eyes away from Jannea McClure on the drums. Girl drummers rule for so many reasons, and McClure is now my poster child for the ultimate chick rocker. Her hair was everywhere as she thrashed around, contributing really complex but dynamic rhythms that drove the whole group. I haven't seen such epic stage presence from a drummer in a long time and I'm sure it'll be even more time before anyone else comes close. She's great on the album, but her energy and commitment really made the whole performance for me. Their music would probably be great at a wedding -- not in a wedding singery way -- because it's something old, but something so, so new too. There's definitely referential 60's stuff in there, but its also innovative. I kept imagining how it would look on sheet music, and I'm no expert at transposing, but this is complicated, composed, well thought out stuff. It's rock with a dash of metal, shaken not stirred, garnished with estrogen. I absolutely couldn't get enough.
So I was more than a little amped up when White Arrows came on. Before they started playing, they gave a pretty extensive soundcheck with no audible difference to the audience. It was a little diva-ish for me, especially for dudes who were getting ready to project fractals onto themselves. White Arrows has a very California sound, with a definite 70's-designer-drugs vibe that all ends up sounding like early Vampire Weekend with all the randomness of CocoRosie. It's great music to listen to when you're sitting on a couch at a college party or experimenting with pharmaceuticals. Their vocal harmonies were so close to being great, but just didn't get there in the way I'd hoped them to. However, the electro elements of their psychedelic show experience were very welcome, and there was something very harmonious about their space noises and the tiny light stars that were drifting all over the stage.
But truthfully, I was confused by their stage presence. They seemed to be taking the gig too seriously to be believed. I mean, here is this band of like 5 or 6 guys (the fractal projection made it too dark to see them, bummer) with light colored jeans and hair down to their shoulders with faces like they're about to go into war or something. I wanted a little more pep and fun to match the silliness of their music. I retreated to the balcony and their whole group made a little more sense though. The projections actually looked cool from a far distance rather than being a freaky distraction when I was up front. And once their sound was a little more echo-y in the back of The Glass House, it felt more complete. They're coming up on their third birthday as a band, so I'm sure there's more to come from them, but I was confused by their showmanship and their vision of the show itself.
By the time the first two bands had played their sets, an even more diverse cornucopia of show-goers were pouring into The Glass House. There was one guy doing what looked like a rain dance, even with absolutely no music playing. Someone next to me lit up the world's smelliest joint, and two young ladies in furs and granny boots were running around giggling at everything. Just as I was concluding that Pomona provides top notch people-watching, Ariel Pink took the stage for what will go down in history as the fussiest sound check ever. The frontman was all over the place with his requests to the sound guy. "More keys," "more vocals," "less keys," "more bass," "more bass." It was awkward to watch and resulted in some serious feedback that has left my ears permanently scarred. But once the first song was over, their sound issues were sorted out and then things started to get interesting.
Three of the four guys on stage were drinking coffee throughout the set. What was this, 2:30 on a work day? Is life performance really so banal to these guys that they have to caffeinate themselves mid-set? It was strange that they seemed so unexcited to perform for The Glass House crowd, but maybe I just don't understand their cool guy vibe. I really enjoyed their songs that were just guitar/guitar/drums/bass/singing -- that straight up musical style really highlighted the skills of the people in the band, especially the bassist who was a standout performer for me. The two guitarists also did some keyboard work throughout the set, in addition to their backup vocals. This versatility is a testament to their skill, but I was most impressed by their guitars and I wanted more of that and less silly keyboard effects. However, I can appreciate the sense of irony that they bring to their performance -- their songs sometimes sound like the Monster Mash, or something that belongs in the Flinstones. It's funny, it's fun, but it's also good music and great live show material.
I just wish that the musicianship of the band had been enough to rein in their lead singer. The long blonde hair, the flannel, the don't-give-a-fuck stage presence and seemingly altered state of consciousness -- there's some easy Curt Cobain parallels to draw here, but I won't get too involved in that. He was out of control in a way that totally appealed to the audience, which was mostly under 18. I can see how that chaos and craze would appeal to the younger set. That's a time when you're struggling to gain control of your life in any way possible, and Ariel Pink is a fantastic musical manifestation of that young rebellion, but with the irony that I picked up in their set, I wanted their songs to feel more deliberate and less about making loud noises. I found myself missing the well-composed tunes from Bella Novela's earlier performance.
By the end of their set, the lead singer was walking around banging his mic on everything he could -- himself, his peers, keyboards, his tambourine, and one of his drummer's cymbals. Zany? Yes. But did all that pandemonium cause sound issues? You bet. I'd definitely like some of what Ariel Pink was on, but maybe in the safety of my own home where I'm not at risk of bursting my ear drums. The audience was certainly happy though, as evidenced by the thirty-something near the back who was thrusting in terrible ways that I've never seen before. But this enthusiastic crowd was still a small one and I think that robbed some of the performers of their excitement for the show. Nevertheless, these are bands that I'd still be happy to see again, especially in a spot as sweet as The Glass House.