The Troubadour doesn’t usually see such level of turmoil, at least every time I go to the famous West Hollywood venue, it is a bit calmer, but the three bands which played on Friday night brought chaos and a happy wind of punk rebellion.
Illuminati Hotties, a band from Highland Park, started the night with a fun and almost bipolar set, alternating between semi-confessional guitar tenderness and pop-punk explosion. Led by singer-guitarist Sarah Tudzin, the self-proclaimed ‘tenderpunk pioneers’ put the crowd on fire with their hooky songs and her youthful vocals. The band is mostly Sarah, as she is the songwriter of Illuminati Hotties’ debut album ‘Kiss Yr Frenemies’, and according to what I have read, she is the only permanent member of the band, but surrounds herself with friends for live shows and tours. Despite the poignancy of lo-fi moments filling the songs with emotions and yearning, she and her musicians obviously wanted to have all the fun possible. During songs like ‘Shape of My Hands’, or ‘For Cheez’ – a song she wrote for her friend and not the food, as the extended title explains – the hard-hitting drums and dancing bass propelled the songs to another level, just after the tenderness of the intro. The crowd was very young and very participating, several times Sarah reached out the audience with confidence and this reached its apotheosis when she jumped in the crowd with her guitar for a triumphant crowd-surfing during the heroic ‘Pressed 2 Death’. The set had the right blend of ferocious assaults and sweet indie pop with a celebration for power chords, and barely a moment to rest… A bit like the young LA band the Regrettes, some of the songs were bringing a modern twist on ‘60s girl groups with the quiet moments of heartbreak interrupted by thunderous bombs. Often following an unusual construction, all the songs were vibrant and occasionally puzzling, telling us about a failed romance. Comically, there was a nod to Conor Oberst during the song ‘Shape Of My Hands’: ‘Singing Conor’s songs at 4 in the morning/ While you were online shopping / You said you need a better mattress / I said I’m not staying long enough to see that.’ If this sounds like a very melancholic line, there was no trace of sadness with bassist Dean Kiner dancing around like a tireless puppet.
Peach Kelli Pop followed with a set of fast bullet songs with a very Ramones-esque texture, sung by frontgirl Allie Hanlon. With a moniker sounding as delicious as a soft creamy dessert, there was a lot of sweetness and bubbliness in the songs, and a strong effervescence all set long, foaming at the surface of each pop-punk songs. Like a sped-up Best Coast tune inspired by Shonen Knife, Allie and her band stamped through her pop-surf melodies, like accelerated cartoonish versions which could bring a lot of chaos in the pit. They managed to fit a good amount of songs in 40 minutes, although I could barely read the setlist, which was written in very small letters on a Hello Kitty notepaper. At times, the lead guitar was producing the quirky sound of an electric toy that had been played too many times, but still running till battery exhaustion, while all the tunes had that speedy propelling quality declined to infinity, fueling a wild pit party, which warmed up the place to a dangerous sweaty level.
I was probably the only one in the room who hadn’t heard of the headliner, the band from Boston with a funny German-inspired name, Vundabar. I got in the game very quickly, during a high energy and surprising set, and so all over the place, that it took me a while to realize what was happening. They scorched the place with angular guitars, large doses of distortion and fuzz, abrupt detours and a truly unpredictable frontman Brandon Hagen on guitar, bending in the most unexpected ways during noisy moments. He was actually bending his songs with the same spirit, using constant shifts in texture and rhythm, building tension and releasing it in cathartic moments for the crowd’s great pleasure. Not everything was noise and surprising shifts though, they also had big hooks, some real power chords sing-along chorus, that strangely made me think about Pixies (‘Chop’ or ‘Holy Toledo’), Phoenix (‘Acetone’) or even Weezer (‘Diver’)… while ‘Voodoo’ had even a rockabilly tempo, unlike any of their other songs. Hagen had a vociferous scream, which could land into a nice falsetto while he was opera-vocalizing between songs, but everything about their set was loud and flamboyant with punk accelerations sending a few kids in an intense stage diving/crowd surfing mode. This year, Vundabar have released their third full-length ‘Smell Smoke’, an album with a very heavy theme (lyricist Brandon has been the long-time caretaker for an ailing family member), however, on Friday night, the drama was only existing in their crazy stage antics.
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