[click on pics for larger versions – photos above by @happyplacemedia]
I’ve got to admit, I had this Big Pink show on my calendar for some time, but as it approached I wasn’t sure if I would make it. I really only knew the band from their first album, A Brief History of Love, from 2009, and remembered two of the stronger tracks from it: “Velvet” and “Dominos”. After that, though, I lost track of the band and they didn’t come back on my radar until I saw this show coming up at the Soda Bar. As the day of the show arrived I decided not to go after all – I had a really busy week and it wasn’t the best night to head out. Then about an hour before the show I figured I’d better listen to that CD just to be sure. By the mid-point of the first track, “Velvet”, with its pulsing synth line and massive, droning guitar chords, I knew I was going and within the hour I was walking up the sidewalk toward the venue.
After grabbing a nice cold Racer 5 IPA, I watched the opening band, Sundrop Electric from here in San Diego, play the opening set. I like the way many touring groups will pick up local bands as their support. Another good example was earlier this year when New York’s Sharkmuffin, was supported by two local bands: Big Bloom and Soft Lions. Sundrop Electric turned out to be a perfect opener for Big Pink, who hail from England. Like the headliners, Sundrop Electric has a big, full sound, and with influences ranging from shoegaze to post-rock to psychedelic they turned in an excellent, diverse set. Many of their songs would start simply, adding layers of rhythm, texture and melody until it all came together in long, extended and often cathartic jams.
Check out the video from this show of the new song, “Control”
Sundrop Electric – photos by MaxSoundsMusic
Next up was Big Pink and I found out very quickly that I had made an excellent decision that night. They started off with the same song that clinched my decision to go in the first place, “Velvet”. As soon as keyboardist/programmer/singer, Mary Charteris, started a sequenced synth rhythm, the darkened stage was completely enveloped in a dense fog of dry-ice. After a short buildup, the drums, bass and guitar entered and combined to create an almost monolithic wall of sound. The players – joining Charteris were: Robbie Furze on lead vocals/guitar, Nicole Eva Emery and drummer whose name I couldn’t figure out – were barely visible even from my spot right in front of the stage. The atmosphere created by the almost deafening roar of the music, combined with the nearly impenetrable colored haze was overwhelming. You didn’t just listen to this music or watch the musicians – you absorbed the sensations as they washed over you.
[click on pics for larger versions – remaining photos by MaxSoundsMusic]
The Big Pink – yes, the group is named after the debut album by The Band – play a modern, electro version of early shoegaze. Many of the numbers seem more like soundscapes than traditional songs but that’s not to say that melody takes a back seat to the noise the band is creating. Furze has infused his songs with engaging and memorable vocal melodies; this is especially interesting when he is joined on vocals by (his wife) Charteris, as in the cut, “Golden Pendulum.” Check out these videos from the show:
The show ended with their biggest hit, “Dominos”, off of the 2009 debut album, A Brief History of Love. By now the fog had lifted somewhat and we could now see that the band were giving this performance everything they had. This is a band that is accustomed to playing much larger venues in Europe, including many of the big festivals, and they were pouring all this energy and passion into a show for maybe 100 fans at a dive bar on El Cajon Blvd. Really, this was one of the best, and certainly one of the loudest, shows that I’ve seen at a smaller club.
I had a chance to speak with a couple members of the band after the show. First I talked to Nicole Eva Emery and was surprised when she told me that this was only her third performance with the band. Apparently, she and the drummer were hired just to play on this tour. I say surprised since she not only played every song perfectly but really seemed to mesh well with the rest of the band. I asked her what kind of venues they had played so far and she said that just the night before they had opened for The Kills who were doing a localchella show at the Observatory in OC. I inquired which was better, opening on a big stage like the Observatory or headlining in the back of a bar like on this night. Without hesitation she said she really loves the smaller shows. She said she really enjoys the close connection with the audience and that this kind of show is the most rewarding and fun for her.
After talking to Nicole I got to sit down and have a beer with Robbie and he turned out to be just as engaging in person as he was on stage. We talked about bands we liked and I was not surprised to find that we enjoyed a lot of the same music: from the classic rock of the 70’s, through post-punk and synth music of the 80’s, to the shoegaze and noise rock of the early 90’s. And even though this was much more of a conversation than an interview I did ask what his plans were for the band since they only had two LP’s and an EP out so far (though to be fair the EP, Empire Underground, is excellent and just dropped earlier this year) and he said that he already has a bunch of songs written and hoped to start recording again this fall.
One thing that Robbie was passionate about was SOS Children’s Villages and he and his band are committed to SOS’s goal of protecting the vulnerable children around the world. Along with the usual merch of CD’s and T-shirts they also had a station set up to sign up and contribute to this worthy cause. You can check them out by clicking the link above.