On a recent Friday night I was in the mood for new music and this show at The Kava Lounge looked interesting. I had heard of Mittens and The Fresh Brunettes but didn’t really know anything about them and I had no idea who Retra was. But I love checking out new bands so I headed on down to Kettner.
First up was Retra, who I soon found out is a relatively new band featuring Haven Blue on vocals, James Howard (Imagery Machine) on guitar , Chris Gorrie (Boychick, Giant Surprise) on bass, Carmen Martinez (Boychick) on drums, and Martin Sohikish (who didn’t play this night) on keys and guitar.
From the start of their set Retra drew me in. I was particularly impressed with Haven’s strong vocals and how fearless she was in letting her voice go where ever the song needed. At the same time James seemed to have an endless supply of melodic riffs that were the perfect accompaniment to Haven’s soaring vocals. Behind them Chris and Carmen sounded just like you’d expect from a rhythm section that plays together in two bands. They were locked in and never wavered in providing support for the lead instruments, yet they were much more than just backing players. Chris’s flowing bass-lines often provided the perfect balance to Jame’s exuberant guitar jams. Meanwhile, Carmen managed to play with both power and restraint and never overshadowed the players in front of her.
Retra’s sound seems to rely less on hooks than on building strong melodies, both with Haven’s vocals and James’ guitar, and then allowing them to cut loose and really take off within the song. I usually try not to use other groups to describe a band’s sound (though I do succumb to the temptation from time to time) but I really had difficulty figuring what their influences might be. Once the show was over I had a chance to ask Haven about this and the first two bands she mentioned were Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Cure. The first reference was a surprise since I don’t really like RHCP – and I definitely liked Retra – but since she mentioned them along with The Cure, who I love and have a completely different sound (from RHCP), maybe that odd combination explains why I couldn’t quite place their sound.