It’s strange how a band can be off your radar for a while, and you finally found out about them you realize they are selling out large venues like the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. That was the case for Caamp on Wednesday night: the whole theater stood up the entire time for the five boys from Ohio, and that was a good thing since I had no intention to sit down.
Last month, Caamp released their third album, “Lavender Days,” and the music has received a lot of attention since that moment: the album has reached opening positions in the Top 10 on the Americana, Alternative, Vinyl, and Indie charts and Top 20 positions on 7 charts total. It’s definitively feel-good music with a blend of country, alt-country, folk, and even bluegrass, with a mean banjo always kicking off at the right moments. The songs have a touch of melancholia here and there, but overall, the music is a big uplift with an earthy sound and a heartfelt tone, working like a soothing cure for our senseless times. At least, this is how I felt it, and I was not the only one looking at the past-middle-aged guy who was dancing his heart out in the pit. The crowd was mostly young but remarkably mixed as I was surrounded by many past-40 individuals who were undoubtedly up to date with music releases.
Heartless Bastards, another band from Ohio but now based in Austin, opened the night with a vigorous set of melodious rock songs carried by Erika Wennerstrom’s powerhouse. What a deep and rich voice this woman has! She could surely sing with tones sometimes reminiscent of Beach House’s Victoria Legrand, while the music often sounded thrilling or even rousing. The songs borrowed bits from straightforward rock, country, psychedelic, and classic rock with lush orchestration, and layered arrangements, with guitars that slightly adventured south of the border during one number. They played songs from their last album released last September, “Beautiful Life,” and I just loathe people who attend concerts and don’t pay attention to the opening act: the row behind me never stopped talking during their entire set. Listening to an opener should be a way to discover interesting new music, or just come at the time of the main act! Heartless Bastards’ set was diverse enough to catch everyone’s attention and they finally had the crowd’s full engagement during the epic track, “Revolution,” which insisted with the line “the revolution is in your mind,” and unleashed into a psychedelic fury with urgency and confidence.
Since I had only listened to Caamp’s last album and a few other random titles, I was not very familiar with their material, but it didn’t really matter: Caamp’s music is an instant love if you like the genres cited above. Picking up a few tricks here and there, they nevertheless cultivate their own brand while sounding very familiar at the first listening. That’s the paradox and the mystery of music and art in general, creating something new with some old recipes. The most distinctive feature of their sound may be due to frontman Taylor Meier’s smoky, raspy, and rather peculiar vocals: raw and smooth at the same time, and if the range is not too impressive, the emotion is real while Evan Westfall (on banjo or guitar) harmonized on most songs.
Looking elegant in their pale lavender suits and white shirts, they started the show with a simple invitation, the breezy and heartfelt “Come with Me Now,” but it honestly was an unnecessary call that the crowd didn’t need. It was followed by the bouncy “Peach Fuzz,” received by screams of joy and hand claps. If I despise it when a band asks for the crowd’s participation, Caamp didn’t have to say a word, the show was a spontaneous and non-stop foot-stomping, toe-tapping, hand-clapping, and singalong.
But they were not a one-recipe band, no song sounded the same. The subtle and intricated guitars of “No Sleep,” immediately triggered some gentle head-hopping, even at the first listening, while the whipped rhythm of “Just Wonderin” and its bouncy banjo was absolutely irresistible and had some Paul Simon’s Graceland traces at times… to my great pleasure. The show alternated between these exhilarating numbers and banjo ballads in a sort of Americana-meets-old-time-string band, sometimes melancholic, sometimes exploding in truly rocking parts (“I Keep Going”). A few songs (“Common Man,” “See the World”) received an enthusiastic and collective handclap from the crowd while triumphing in a sort of Mumford & Sons’ exhilaration, except that the fervor of the delivery sounded more authentic.
The fast songs were the highlights of the show, with the band visibly having great fun on stage, bumping into each other, jumping with joy, carried away by the music and the crowd’s excitement. “The Otter,” from their new album, was another moment of pure joy, expressing genuine feelings with simple lyrics: “I am floating in deep water/Like the unfamiliar otter/In love with someone’s daughter/I’m going to lose float.” If they didn’t talk much, Taylor Meier simply said we looked amazing under the starry sky, and the impressive number of people singing along during “All The Debts I Owe” was a testimony of the band’s recent popularity.
The encore started with Taylor Meier alone on stage, singing lullaby-like numbers, during the more intimate moment of the night, but they had to end with a boom and especially could not leave without performing their current hit, “Believe.” After “Officer of Love” (a song with a Wallflowers vibe) with the full band, Taylor took Joseph Kavalec’s spot behind the drums for a mash-up between “Believe” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” a rather unexpected idea and maybe an attempt to show that Caamp’s world is not all lavender-colored and charming melodies. The outdoor campfire imagery changed for a few seconds, just before landing on their feet again with a booming, jamming, and honestly rocking “Going to the Country.”
Right now, Caamp brings so much fire in a live performance, that the band is probably too big to be ignored. Sure, their tension-release music is crowd-pleasing at times and their let’s-write-another-folk-anthem tendency can be exhausting for some, but each one of their songs is a unique and engaging experience: it’s always catchy and punctuated by gentle pauses and outbursts of energy climaxing in guitar solos that never make their set boring. Last night, they were shining under the stars and hopefully will continue to do so for a while.
Come with Me Now (Lavender Days)
Peach Fuzz (By and By)
No Sleep (By and By)
Just Wonderin (Boys)
Hey Joe (Boys)
Common Man (Boys)
Wolf Song (By and By)
By and By (By and By)
Light (Lavender Days)
Send the Fisherman (Boys)
See the World (Caamp)
I Keep Going (Caamp)
Penny, Heads Up (By and By)
Going to the Country (Boys)
The Otter (Lavender Days)
All the Debts I Owe (Caamp)
Sure Of (Lavender Days)
Officer of Love
Believe/War Pigs (Lavender Days/Black Sabbath cover)
Going to the Country
the sound seemed to erupt from every side of the room
still on top
“danceable music for the end of days”
contracts its world in Nashisms
let’s take what we are offered
It’s the music, stupid
a restless and fearless freak show
Eminem and Calvin couldn’t move Bey