There was such joy on people’s faces last night, everybody looked happy and relieved to attend their first post-pandemic live show, and all around, everything looked almost… normal? Nobody was wearing a mask, well it’s hard to keep a mask on when you are drinking, and large smiles were showing up on all faces. Sit was as if we had agreed we have had enough of these depressing virtual shows: in-person, live music is back and there is no comparison. For many musicians and people, it was their first real post-pandemic show, and after a change of venue at the last minute, the crowd packed, yes packed, Harvard & Stone, a bar on Hollywood Boulevard. However, it didn’t even feel weird to be standing that close to other unmasked human beings, be talking to familiar faces and strangers, and experiencing a normal night out again. Humans have a strong capacity to forget sometimes, and habits come back with a vengeance.
The night was celebrating the anniversary of BadassbandsLA, a group of music enthusiasts founded by Jolynn Braswell who have been tastemakers in the LA indie music scene for 10 years, organizing shows with local bands and exposing them to a larger crowd. This Saturday night was a double celebration as it was also the return to the stage for the bands playing: Veronica Bianqui, Jagged Baptist Club, Family Cash, and a late-night surprise.
Veronica Bianqui played a lovely acoustic set by herself and her bright powerhouse. Her sense of melody combined with her flexible and soulful voice that could reach great highs with ease was a beautiful way to get back in front of the stage, watching a true artist at the top of her game, not hiding behind any artifice. ‘Pretty surreal to be back,’ she said. Some of her songs have a retro side, sometimes melancholic, often tender (‘Don’t Love Me Blue’), while her guitar could become bluesy-er, her vocals tenser, and her lyrics very personal: her dad passed away last year. Despite the weight of loss and the isolation due to the pandemic, she released a self-titled album last year, featuring many of the songs she played last night, like the intimate and lovely ‘I Want to tell You,’ and its light Cranberries vibe. If the set was uplifting you could feel a tangible sense of pain and loss behind her rhythmically bold pop tunes.
I had already seen Jagged Baptist Club a couple of times before the pandemic, and it was good to see them again, banging with the same rage and fun, post-pandemic. They were loud and fierce, filling the place with their angry post-punk noise and the charismatic presence of their frontman Blake Stokes. After the release of their debut album’ Reptile Super Show’ in 2019, they got noticed by local radio stations like KCRW and some abroad, so I can only predict great things for their future with the release of their next album that Stokes describes as ‘Public Image Limited meets Division of Laura Lee, covering ‘Trompe Le Monde’ while having a nervous breakdown that’s being live-streamed on the internet.’ With mean bass lines, explosive drumming, pulsing synth, and Stokes’ anxious and commanding delivery, their set was unlocking some ecstatic and mad energy, starting with their new single ‘Chop x 8,’ a driving force that was shaking what was left of a lockdown torpor. Yes, this past year was well behind us after their bulldozer energy and swelling sonic blister. If ‘In Sequence’ could even make you think at a more buoyant and bizarre take on a TV on the Radio’s track, their new song ‘Temptation Death House’ and its sinister beats, running synth and Goth vibes ended to be one of the most entertaining moments of the night, because of Blake’s mad dance moves. Jagged Baptist Club is a lot of fun and looking at all the new and original music they played last night, they certainly put the lockdown to good use. The world may have gone mad for a year, but you can count on them to go wild with a large smile when they play their abrasive, frenetic, and completely unclassifiable music.
Family Cash, a four-piece band, continued the night with a sort of sunny psychedelic rock that was going in many directions. It was a bit wild and messy as they played their layered jams with disheveled energy and many sonic detours. They could go explosive-style with a mean tension, a furious delivery, and full hair banging, but they had overall a welcoming laid back attitude, well-fitting this fun night.
They were immediately followed by an unexpected hot burlesque number with girls dancing on the bar and doing acrobatics above the crowd, for everyone’s delight, and the last act of the night turned out to be many acts, a collective of several local bands covering each other for fun. I was barely familiar with them, but the super local band consisted of Adam Stilwell of Planets, Ethan Walden and Pete Dougherty of Mars and the Massacre, Nate Weiner, Jacob Seldes, and Branden Stroup of LA River Bend, Leon LeDoux of The Janks, Griffin Young of The Diamond Light and Ison Van Winkle of the Yip Yops. So many LA bands, so little time! It was certainly a full stage house, and while the band covered plenty of styles, they ended the night with a euphoric version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’… something none of us hadn’t done together for a long time.
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