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Irontom, Alex Vargas, Waterstrider, The Boxer Rebellion At Bardot, Monday May 23rd 2016




It’s a School Night at Bardot is still going strong every Monday night, and each time it’s a marathon of bands from 8 pm to past midnight. On Monday, I got to see 4 artists: LA rockers Irontom, Danish-English-Uruguayan Alex Vargas, Oakland-based group Waterstrider, and UK indie band the Boxer Rebellion,… a full night of music hosted by musical tastemaker Chris Douridas.

The Irontom kids have been very active for a few years, I have caught some of their memorable and bold performances in the past, and Monday was no exception. Frontman Harry Hayes is probably the most theatrical performer you can imagine, his over-the-top and almost creepy gestures, his intense crazy-eyes stare, his freak-outs, his cathartic dance prove it at each instant, and the explosion that follows is the best demonstration that these guys still have the biggest faith in rock ‘n’ roll ever, they want to put the theatrical, the bravado and the grandiose back into indie rock. I have said it before, but they are surrounded by rock’ n’ roll royalties, ex-Queens of the Stone Age/ Them Crooked Vulture Alain Johannes produced their full-length album, while guitarist Zach Irons and drummer Dylan Williams are respectively the son and nephew of Jack Irons, the former drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, plus they are touring with Awolnational. It was intense from start to finish, an explosive set of songs played with a stadium-rock sound, an intense energy recruiting each fiber of their body, smashing loud guitars getting to epic dimensions. This time, I didn’t really heard the Muse and Led Zeppelin comparisons I had made before, their sound seemed to be more all over the place, but always bombastic, with sweaty drama, complex melodies and big chorus to blow up the place…. And a few screaming girls and crowd baths. They came back for an encore, which is very rare for an opening band, and this last one was like a beast they wanted to kill and didn’t want to die. You have to believe it, rock is not dead.

Alex Vargas had a lot of die-hard fans around, his set was acclaimed by cheering fans and it was quite a scene to witness. He started with a quiet guitar and pain-releasing impressive vocals, before getting into more electronica while becoming a synth warrior, giving us what turned to be a very powerful performance. His ethereal falsettos, his emotional R&B-ish vocals combined with a solemn and thoughtful atmosphere first made me think about bands like Active Child or How to Dress Well, but Vargas was another sort of character, dark with an intense stare, pushing boundaries between genres, incorporating bits of electronic dance into cold, spacey soundscapes and surprising electronica. He has released his secong EP, ‘Giving Up The Ghost’ a few months ago, and whether he was manipulating loops of his vocals or layered up his complex compositions, there were strong echoes of soul and even gospel, going through kaleidoscopic transformations. Born and rise in Denmark to a Danish/English mother and Uruguayan father, he told us he didn’t know where home was anymore, before covering Beyonce’s ‘Baby Boy’, a song, as he explained, he had already covered last time he had played at Bardot. He was performing alongside a guitarist, who stayed very discreet all set long, while adding depth to Vargas’ sonic textures, going from quiet simple chords to explosive and unconventional electronics. Certainly Vargas’ voice was the most remarkable part of the show.

Nate Salman, the singer of the next band, Waterstrider, was also singing in a high falsetto, although the mood was different with a pedigree quite hard to pigeonhole. It took me a while to identify the Afro Beat influence, which was less obvious live than recorded, whereas their first calm composition, sung with an eerie falsetto, reached some cinematic highs you could have cried at the top of mountains. The rest was a bit more dance-y and animated with Radiohead-ish parts and even almost jazz-y elements, but never going into a very affirmed direction, smoothly walking on water but letting me in the vague. The whole set sounded like a dreamy sequence, with soft and discreet percussions keeping a very rhythmic vibe, but suddenly ending in a big freak out kind-of song, still dominated by Salman’s remarkable falsetto.

The Boxer Rebellion was headlining the night, and it is funny how the crowd was changing from one act to the next while I was one of the few standing almost at the same place all night long. Fronted by Nathan Nicholson, the Boxer Rebellion, have been around for 15 years already and was born when bands like Oasis and Radiohead were all the rage, and they were a bit of these and not really any of these. Alternating between keys and guitar, Nicholson was singing like a less nasal David Gray (may be much better than a tired Thom Yorke comparison) over expansive and fuzzy soundscapes, and the result was melancholic however dynamic, following fluid guitar lines with some Interpol underplay. They told us they had never been so close to the public, that’s true that the place is very small and I always end up being way-too-close-for-comfort (and pictures), but may be that was a sort of admittance for some stadium envy, because they certainly have this kind of ambition. The quartet, which has released its fifth album, ‘Ocean By Ocean’, seemed to be more interested by ambiance than, let’s say, choruses, not that choruses are always important, but all I remember is a serpentine guitar line above a fuzz wall of sound. They didn’t come for an encore despite the crowd’s request, but it was already 12:30, on a school night.

More pictures here and here.


Alex Vargas




The Boxer Rebellion

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