I believe that I usually have a pretty good feel for how big a band is, but I have to admit to completely underestimating Muse. I figured the group was huge in Europe but had a somewhat lesser appeal and following here in the states. Apparently I was wrong. Very wrong! The English trio (along with a touring keyboardist/guitarist) played to a sold out, rapturous audience at one of San Diego’s biggest venues and absolutely killed it! The crowd was on their feet, jumping, screaming, and singing along to nearly every song. This was the first time I have seen a show “in the round,” with the band placed in the center of the arena, and it makes me wonder why more artists don’t do this. The setup really engaged the fans on the floor and made it so that there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.
It’s been a few years since I’ve been to one of the Green Flash concerts at the Birch Aquarium, but when I saw that San Diego’s own Midnight Pine was playing, I snapped up a couple of tickets for myself and my wife. As the evening went on I was reminded of what I loved, and didn’t love, about the venue. It is a gorgeous setting at the aquarium’s outdoor patio/tide pool area with a broad view of La Jolla and the pacific ocean. The atmosphere and location seems to put everyone in a really relaxed, chill mood.
The typical way I decide what show to go to is to notice that a band is coming to town, and then as long as it isn’t a horrible venue, just buy the tickets. This time I went the other way around – after having such a great experience at The Music Box during the recent Redwoods Revue, I started actively looking for good shows at this downtown location. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds since they seem to book more mainstream acts or at least bands that didn’t interest me at all. Then I noticed this show. I had never heard of Andrew Bird before this but I was very familiar with the opener, John Grant, as his last three albums, Queen of Denmark, Pale Green Ghosts and Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (see my 2015 Top 20) have all received extensive play on my turntable.
[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.
[click pics for larger versions – photos by Esau Laniado]
This past Monday at the Casbah proved once again why it’s a good plan to arrive early for shows and catch the opening acts. Your worst case scenario is that you get to hang out, have a couple of beers and socialize, but more often than not, if you give these support groups a chance, you should find something to enjoy about them. PINS, who, like headliners The Subways, hail from England, provided strong evidence to support my theory. The way I see it, if you can’t enjoy an act as good as PINS you probably don’t really like rock ‘n’ roll that much!
PINS may be from Manchester, but if they want to move to San Diego they would fit right into our local music scene. Their mix of noisy but melodic guitar-led music, with influences as wide as shoegaze, surf, riot grrrl and lots of garage-rock would feel right at home here. The band, featuring Faith Holgate on lead vocals and guitar, Lois McDonald on lead guitar, Anna Donigan on bass, Sophie Galpin on drums, and Kyoko Swan on keys, were quite dynamic and could go from a soft melodic passage to a ferocious wall of sound. Some of the best moments came when all the PINS would sing together – sometimes in unison with gang vocals and at others with layered harmonies.
PINS were also adept at getting the crowd involved in the show. The Casbah was filling up nicely for their set, but San Diego audiences often take a wait-and-see approach before giving it up for bands they don’t know. Holgate decided to just take things into her own hands, though, and went out into the crowd – as she was singing – and took the hand of a girl near the front and started dancing with her. This, of course, got everyone moving, and by the end of the set the crowd was completely engaged. If someone had walked in right then, they might have thought PINS were the headliners!
I had a chance to speak with Holgate after the show and she told me that they had just played the Casbah recently and that this show went a lot better for them. I took that to mean that the crowd was larger and more active during their set. My prediction is that by the next time they come through town they’ll be able to count on San Diego from the start!
Here are a couple of videos I took from the show:
Both songs are off PINS’ 2013 debut album, Girls Like Us. I haven’t heard that record yet but I did pick up their second LP, 2015’s Wild Nights, at the show and can confirm this record is going to get a lot of play! Apparently they recorded it at the famous Rancho de la Luna studio in Joshua Tree (that’s the location in the Palm Desert that Dave Grohl featured in his Sonic Highways series) and their producer, Dave Catchling, managed to keep PINS’ distinctive character while also helping them achieve a bigger and more varied sound.
You can check out more about PINS here on their website: wearepins
All photographs are by Esau Laniado at www.instagram.com/esaulaniado.
Sometimes you just get lucky. Lucky to be in just the right place at the right time, and in this case that means catching a band like the Subways at a place like the Casbah. The Subways, from England, had a minor hit in the U.S. back in 2006 when the single “Rock & Roll Queen” from their debut album, Young for Eternity, was released. They toured that record, stayed in Los Angeles to record its follow-up, All or Nothing, then returned to the UK and didn’t come back until this tour. That’s eight years with no presence in America.
Here’s a group that has played to 70,000+ fans at the Reading and Leeds festivals, among others, (check out this performance) and tonight they were going to play the Casbah, which has a capacity of just 200. I asked their manager, Ben Hamilton-Kirby, who accompanied the band on this tour, what size venues the Subways typically play when they headline at home. He told me that in addition to the festival circuit the band typically plays to crowds of about 1,500 to 3,000, depending on the location. Interestingly, the lower number was at home in England, but in Germany and other European cities they are even more popular and draw the larger crowds. I then asked him what it was like for the band to play such a small venue when they were so comfortable playing to much larger audiences, and he said, “Actually, it was worse than that for a while – only 18 tickets were sold before the show, so the band really didn’t know what the reception would be like.” As it turns out, they needn’t have worried as the Casbah filled up nicely by the time their set started. It may not have been 75,000, but 150 inside the Casbah can create some energy!
[click on pictures for larger versions]
And energy is just what the Subways provided. After a taped symphonic introduction, the band hit the stage at full speed playing the song “Kalifornia” from their 2008 album, All or Nothing. This song starts with an attacking drum fill followed by a huge, heavy guitar & bass riff before singer Billy Lunn‘s vocals enter to sing/shout the verse. Then on the chorus, Lunn is joined by bassist Charlotte Cooper, and their voices blend perfectly to put the pop into their pop/punk sound.
That’s how it went for the 18-number set (see the full setlist I posted here) – song after song of energetic and inspired rock and roll. The band, which also included Lunn’s brother, Josh Morgan, on drums, was fully engaged with each other and with the audience. Lunn was especially talkative, and quite funny, sharing stories and bantering with the crowd and his band-mates. This connection was tested a couple of times when the singer would stop singing in mid verse or chorus, trusting the audience to fill in the vocals. This would seem to be a risky maneuver for a band that hadn’t been around in 8 years, but Lunn knew his audience and they did their part at full volume.
The Subways’ influences are varied and I can hear a mix of bands and genres: from early glam and punk like T-Rex and the Ramones to alt rock and Brit-pop like Nirvana and Oasis. They also have a real classic rock sound to them, and I’ll bet Billy Lunn grew up with a great record collection around him. I had a chance to talk to Lunn after the show and ask him a few questions. First I asked how old he was when he wrote “Rock & Roll Queen” and what it felt like to still be playing it and receive such an enthusiastic response from the audience. He told me that he was 17 when he wrote the song and is “just thrilled to be able to still play it and for people to enjoy it so much.” He told me about how they got their first record deal when they were quite young and that he can’t believe that song is still going so strong after all these years. I then asked if when he wrote it he was aware of the Mott the Hoople song with the same name (listen here) since not only does it have the same title but the Subways have a glam-rock edge to some of their songs like Mott the Hoople did. Lunn admitted that he had never heard of the song at the time but that he did hear it later on and that he really likes it. He even mentioned that he thought he was “being so clever coming up with that phrase, only to find out it had already been a hit for another band.”
And now we come to the end of the performance as the band launches into “Rock & Roll Queen.” The crowd was pushing forward, dancing and singing every word at full volume along with the band. And as the song ended, Lunn, drenched in sweat with a big smile on his face, just looked out over the audience at this dive bar on Kettner and had a look on his face as if he felt like he was the lucky one to be there.
The other good fortune I had on this night was to meet a young photographer who agreed to share his photographs with me. All of the pictures in this post are his, and you can find more of his excellent work on his Instagram account: www.instagram.com/esaulaniado.
Click here to check out The Subways website.
Click here for more pictures and videos from the show from MaxSoundsMusic.
Here are the pictures I took at The Subways‘ Casbah show. See the full MaxSounds review of the show and much better pictures here: The Subways – May 2, 2016
[click pictures for larger versions]
Check out these videos from the show:
And here are a couple of promo pictures I got from the Subways’ manager:
The Belly Up crowd usually doesn’t start to really fill in the space until the headliners are getting ready to go on. Not so on this night, as San Diego’s own garage/punk/surf-rockers, the Creepy Creeps, brought their demented brand of “dance numbers” to the Solana Beach venue as the warm up act for The Damned (look right below this post for a review of the Damned set). And warm up the crowd they did – exhorting the crowd to dance and cut loose while they played with their usual reckless abandon. Every time I see this band play they have a full dance floor in front of them and it doesn’t matter if they are the headliners or the 1st act on a 4 band bill – they bring everything they’ve got.
Check out this clip recorded at The Belly Up last summer: Creepy Creeps – Belly Up