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Live Review and Photos: School Of Seven Bells, February 1, 2011, The Conga Room – Los Angeles, CA

The Conga Room is a club in Downtown L.A. that occupies the same mall-like entertainment district that houses the Staples Center, Club Nokia, and Nokia Live. These are some of the nicest looking and most sterile places imaginable to check out music (or basketball). The Conga Room, though, has more personality than all of these put together (and no overt corporate sponsor), though the website does turn to name-dropping to claim owners: Jimmy Smits, Jennifer Lopez, Paul Rodriguez, Sheila E., Amaury Nolasco, Baron Davis, Trevor Ariza, and will.i.am.

Not the ownership crew I’d associate with hip indie concerts. This is part of the reason I’d never set foot inside before Tuesday night, when School Of Seven Bells headlined the 1,000 person club. But the venue, drink prices aside, proved to be a fitting atmosphere for SVIIB’s brand of heavily produced pop-rock, seeming both futuristic and organic in sound while remaining emotional and removed in sentiment simultaneously.

This was my first time seeing the band without keyboardist Claudia Deheza, who left the band for personal reasons late last year. While many might be skeptical about the band without the other-half of the power twins, this is one of the rare cases of bands adding through subtraction. Alejandra Deheza and Benjamin Curtis have such a terrific chemistry on stage together that removing Claudia from the equation allows the two to play off each other and get more out of the songs. Sure, the extra harmonies were nice, but the samples the band used pretty much made up for any sonic additions that were missing.

The set was on an off-day from their tour opening for Interpol. Interpol is not allowed to play LA due to their Coachella commitment, so School Of Seven Bells booked this little show to fill their time between San Diego and Santa Barbara. Their set was compact and smooth, with their best songs shining just as would be expected. The first highlight came with “Dirt Devil,” aided by solid percussion and a slow-building rhythm. The band’s two leads often exchanged looks of approval and support, but never lost sight of the audience. This focus on crowd-pleasing became clear with the stacked conclusion of the show, with killer-cuts “Windstorm,” “ILU,” and “Sempiternal/Amaranth.”

For an encore, the band returned for a cover of Siouxsie And The Banshees’ “Kiss Him For Me,” which is just about as perfect a cover as I can imagine the band performing. The tune is played faithfully, but School Of Seven Bells kind of already sound like that song, so it is the rare occasion where a band can provide a faithful cover and still remain true to their own sound.

After the set, I had a chance to speak with the band and if anything can be taken from this night, it’s that the band is in a good place right now. Sometimes you meet people and you can feel that they are ripe for creative breakthroughs, and from both the set and the brief conversation, I think School Of Seven Bells are primed to produce even better work as a duo. Look forward to it.

My Cabal
Dust Devil
White Elephant Coat
Half Asleep

Kiss Them For Me (Siouxsie and the Banshees cover)

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