There was something of a common theme between three of the four acts on Thursday night’s bill: they were the ‘other’ bands of guys from groups that are already very well established. Topping the bill was Ramona Falls, the band of former Menomena member Brent Knopf; co-headlining was Lotus Plaza, the side-project of Deerhunter guitarist Lockett Pundt; and opening the night was Wymond Miles, best known as singer of The Fresh & Onlys. With each of their records, these acts have shown that they hold the bar just as high when working on a new project as they have on anything else they’ve done, and when it comes to the live show this holds equally true.
Unfortunately we arrived in time just to see Wymond Miles’ final song, but the scorching guitar fireball of a performance deserves to be mentioned for its ferocity and excitement, and undoubtedly I was left with a large feeling of regret that I had missed the whole performance. Fortunately this was short-lived as San Francisco band Social Studies took to the stage and made me forget about it. The band played an interesting brand of stoic pop, something akin to what Coldplay would sound like if they were addicted to groove instead of melody, with guitarist Tom Smith adding Johnny Buckland-esque soaring guitar to the mix (that’s the guy from Coldplay, and I’m not ashamed to admit I know that). The band has a new album coming out through Antenna Farm records this Fall, which could turn out to be quite a success for them as their auburn melodies seem like they’d be perfect listening for that evocative time of year.
In a Deerhunter live show Lockett Pundt seems perfectly happy standing to the side of the stage getting on with business and not making much movement as he played, so I was intrigued to see if anything would be different as he made the shift to leader for Lotus Plaza’s performance. The truth is, not really, but that didn’t actually matter at all. Pundt has put together a band of four other guys who all seem to share the same live performance ethos of making sure to play with precision rather than flare, and when you’re trying to recreate songs as layered as those on Lotus Plaza’s recent album Spooky Action At A Distance this is no bad thing. I’ll be the first to admit that Lotus Plaza is something of a one trick pony, but in a live setting with the songs being as gloriously vibrant as they were, I had no problem with this whatsoever. The band would routinely get themselves up to a high velocity and set themselves on a strong path, Lockett would sing incoherently but pleasantly for a bit, then the guitars of Pundt and Dan Wakefield would intertwine with each other, or one would skate delicately across the surface of the other. The highlights were the gloriously extended and jammed-out to max capacity “Jet Out Of The Tundra” and “Remember Our Days,” which had the two guitars audibly and expertly tip-toeing on tightropes around each other. Words were barely spoken between songs, and in fact the band often filled the space with some kind of harmonious noise or other, which left the entire set feeling more like a shapeless dream than something tangible – a high compliment, even if it doesn’t sound like one.
Ramona Falls stood separate from the rest of the bands on the night as their music is not quite as kraut-indebted as those of the other acts on show. Rather, Ramona Falls make intricate and unpredictable music which meant that each song was unique and the tone could sway completely from song to song. The band kicked off with the uplifting near-power-pop of “Bodies of Water,” took the audience through some more of the intricacies that make up new album Prophet, brought the mood down with the acoustic-led “Going Once, Going Twice” and ended on an introspective note with “Spore.” The biggest stand out of the night was “Russia” from debut album Intuit, which the band joked was “evil sounding,” which was true, but the thunderous song certainly left a dent in the evening. Despite the complexities of the songs the band had no qualms about having fun while playing, with Knopf alternately smiling and thrashing around in time with the songs’ shifts, while drummer Paul Alcott was constantly in and out of his stool and quickly became a main focal point of the evening. Ramona Falls is usually accredited to Brent Knopf as a solo project, but the performance on this evening showed that they are anything but, with each member turning in the kind of performance that showed that they’re as passionate about these songs as if they were their own, and this could have been the only way that Ramona Falls’ performance could have come off as flawlessly as it did.
Overall it was a perfect bill: a set of acts that were all fairly different from one another, but all had enough in common to ensure that the audience would be engrossed, no matter if they had known their music beforehand or not.