The 88 at the Hotel Cafe on Friday February 25th
Well before they toured with Ray Davies in 2010, everyone was drawing comparison between The 88’s music and the Kinks’, so I guess their collaboration was meant to be, but I’m not saying this in an Usher-Bieber kind of way.
There is something bright and sunny in their British-invasion-inspired songs, their debut album was entitled ‘Kind of light’ as a matter of fact, and they talk a lot about the sun, with song titles like ‘Melting in the sun’, ‘Center of the sun’, without talking about their ‘Sunday afternoon’, which may bring you back to a ‘Sunny Afternoon’.
On Friday night, they precisely started their set, by ‘The center of the Sun’, a very bright ball of energy, filled by this Hammond organ sound on the album version, and replaced then by a lighter piano, but it was not because they had chosen to go acoustic that they did restrain the energy part. They are effectively in the middle of a series of Friday residencies at the Hotel Café in Hollywood, and without even using a drum set (just a box that Anthony Zimmitti was gently tapping), but using a real piano, a too rare thing in this synthesizer world, they proved music can be full of life and high-powered even when electrically non-powered.
When most of the bands choose to go for a loud sound, The 88 do it softly and subtly, with a lot of skills, and without forgetting the dynamic of a live show. Adam Merrin plays an animated piano, half-bent on it most of the time, with his hands running fast on the keys, Todd O’Keefe fingers a contained but efficient bass, while Keith Slettedahl’s vocals have that special freshness and youth with playful intonations. And I forgot to say, they do it old school, they dress up to play!
You can especially hear the Kinks’ DNA in songs like ‘Love is the thing’, a song they recorded using an iPhone a year ago.
But it was also a night of covers, they wanted to have fun, and what more can you ask for when you can hear the Velvet Underground’s ‘Who loves the Sun’ and The Kinks’ ‘Starstruck’ during the same night? They had to play one from the Kinks I suppose…
They also covered ‘Bath’ by Harry Nilsson, a quite perfect fit for their sound, as well as an unexpected song by Webb Pierce, ‘There stands the glass’, during which Adam Merrin switched from the piano to the accordion, and the old classic ‘Sea of love’ which turned a little into a sing-along since it sounds so indie material now that Tom Waits and Cat Power have covered it.
So with so many songs filled with hooks, with such musical skills – and I am no even talking about the Ray Davies connection – you have to wonder why The 88 are not stars yet,… but there are so many things I don’t understand in the music industry. One thing however, could they be a little too much anchored in the past?
They closed the set by one of the songs from their last album, ‘They ought to see you now’, a very 60s harmonies-filled climatic pop number they even performed on Conan O’Brian last year. And on their album, Ray Davies, again, does the harmony vocals on that song,… he must really loves them.
The center of the sun
Bath (Harry Nilsson’s cover)
Starstruck (The Kinks’ cover)
There stands the glass (Webb Pierce’s cover)
Won’t catch me the 88
Who loves the sun (Velvet Underground’s cover)
Sea of love (cover)
Love is the thing
Lost and found
They ought to see you now