On Saturday night, the historic and beautifully restored Paramount was hosting an evening of local indie bands: RoyalJag, Mind Monogram, and The Tracks.
Located in Boyle Heights since 1922, the cool venue has a long history with music, and decades ago icons such as Rita Hayworth, Cab Calloway, and Little Stevie Wonder have played there, whereas the club hosted performances of punk bands from Black Flag to T.S.O.L. and Social Distortion in the ’80s.
San Bernardino-based Royal Jag started the night with their glowing pop and synth-heavy smooth soundscapes. The trio, which consists of Filipino twins Jay and Roland Garcia with their friend David Ajoku, played a few songs from their recently released album ‘IDKHIGH’ (‘I Don’t Know How I Got There’), and if they have called their music Chameleon pop, their blend of dance R&B and sometimes jazz-influenced soul, got funkier and funkier as the set progressed, with here and there some sketches of Michael Jackson-era dancefloors – one of them admitted the king of pop to be a big inspiration. With plenty of swirling keyboards, vocal harmonies in the falsetto ranges and wah-pedals, they made the smiling crowd dance and move along, …although that crowd had already been conquered since the beginning of their set.
Mind Monogram developed a much more psychedelic ambiance with layered dreamscapes floating in the ether. Edgar A. Ruiz’s slow delivery was adding to their very special suspended-in-time atmosphere, as his vocals could become more nasal, gliding above the band’s drug-induced tunes, taking sharp shifts with their melodies. One of their songs, ‘Chasing Rabbits’ seemed to give away their formula of kaleidoscopic acid trips while exhaling a few Radiohead fumes. With Christian Caro on guitar, Bryam Mejia on drums and Billy Azurdia on bass, their moody tunes never got too fast or too loud, at a few exceptions, as they were rather developing a hypnotic side to their sun-soaked psych-pop. On songs such as ’11:11′, ‘Kultchair’, ‘Insomniac’, ‘Dark Matter Theory’ or ‘Howls’, the spacey textures let catchy melodies escape midway in the song, while Ruiz’s plaintive vocals were expressing some melancholia and even ache. The band, which got its name from the MGMT song ‘Alien Days’, has released its sophomore full-length, ‘Ivory Hall’ last year, and the multi-influenced tunes were certainly the most soothing experience of the night, in a very experimental and artsy presentation.
The Tracks were headlining the night, and if I had seen them before a few years ago, their performance on Saturday night was one that will put them on my radar for the upcoming years. Last time I saw them, frontman and singer Venancio Bermudez gave a high-energy performance with a full scream, but last night, he was dangerous, holding his guitar high with an aggressive stare, and shouting his songs as if he had nothing left to lose. The young band has already received excellent press, and after seeing them I would say they could even be the next big thing emerging from Los Angeles large pool of indie bands. The execution was fierce and truly impressive, especially because of Venancio’s big howls delivered with bravado and a fearless attitude. ‘Take You Alone’ was an upbeat and infectious number, which made the girls jump and bounce as many other songs. It was played with youthful optimism and shades of nostalgia, while other songs (‘The Quilt Song’, ‘In The Cold’, ‘See Them Go’) were reminiscent of The Strokes. This actually earned the Tracks a few comparisons with the NYC band, while Morrissey’s name has been dropped to describe Bermudez’s vocals. However, he always kept a rebellious attitude with the curled lip of the rockers of the past,… you cannot fake charisma, and he had plenty of it.
With Felipe Contreras on bass, Jimmy Conde on drums, and Jesiel Higuera on guitar, all eyes were on Venancio, who gave an intense performance, a raw release of emotion without any limits. He was one of these performers who immediately gives the impression he is singing as if his life depended on it and Venancio, who grew up in East LA as the child of a poor and undocumented Latino family, may actually know a few things about that. Not everything was upbeat like the jumpy ‘Hanging On’, there were some real darkness and distortion during an impressive number called ‘Your Bike’, while the surf-guitars of ‘Inner Chid’ had a ‘60s Doors-era psychedelia.
After mentioning the upcoming elections and the urgent task ‘to get that motherfucker out of the office’, Bermudez’s rebellious tone got crescendo and the fierce delivery got even more furious for the great delight of the crowd.
The Tracks have released their debut album ‘Treasured Memories’ last year, and from what I was able to see and hear on Saturday night, the sweat dripping from the mic and the fiery of the execution were a testimony of the power of music to overcome anything,.. in other words, the old story of rock & roll.
too on the nose
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