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Live Review and Photos: The Horrors and The Stepkids, September 15, 2011, El Rey – Los Angeles, CA

Photos by Philip Cosores

It seems to me that touring America can be quite a strange and fickle procedure. On the night in question, The Horrors played to a capacity crowd at El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, but on their preceding and following shows they played (and will play) at venues that are about a third of the size of tonight’s. While many people would argue that seeing a band in a smaller venue is far superior, there are exceptions to this rule – and tonight was certainly one. The Horrors are a somewhat demure band, not moving or saying all that much, but when they’re playing to a larger crowd the energy that they receive can coax them to be more active, which was certainly true for some of the members. Additionally, The Horrors’ sound is cavernous and sprawling and, really, it’s much more suited to fill large rooms.

Opening the evening’s proceedings were The Stepkids, a group that may not yet have the following to pack out a venue this size as headliners, but one that has the stage show to warrant that kind of adulation further down the line. The trio of guys, dressed all in white, played their show in front of a white screen and throughout had mesmerizing and funky projections cast upon them. Their music is a blend of funk and 60s pop, with the three guys often going at their vocals in wholehearted and uplifting harmonies. Of course, like all music of this ilk, there’s a little bit of goofiness to it, and songs like “Brain Ninja” showed this side off. But, even if their outward appearance is a little comical, their performance was all business. That their music flowed smoothly and perfectly in time with their fluid and rapidly evolving projections says a lot about the tightness of their performance. With songs that rapidly transformed from slow funk to uplifting choruses, a lot of the credit not only has to be put on the stick man Tim Walsh but also the lucid and flawless bass laid down by Dan Edinburg. Pairing up with The Horrors on tour seems like a strange way to go, but I’m sure that many of the people in attendance were impressed, even if this is not the kind of music they typically enjoy.

The opening of the Horrors’ performance was heralded by the opening of the curtains coinciding with the bustling that kicks off Skying’s first track “Changing The Rain,” and shortly after the band opened up fully into their dream-pop-meets-new-wave sound, engulfing the audience in a wave of bass, guitar, drums and synths at levels of sonic perfection. They shortly followed this up with Primary Colours favourite “Who Can Say,” which saw the crowd clapping along to the thudding beat in the song’s spoken-word segment. Throughout the whole set the band alternated between cuts from their last two albums (their debut album Strange House has practically been disowned at this point), and the juxtaposition of the jagged and ruffled sound of Primary Colours fit together rather well with the relative smoothness of Skying. This was highlighted by the back to back pairing of “Three Decades” and “Endless Blue”; the former’s loud and rocking sound shifting into the placid opening of the latter pleasantly.

Just by looking at how guitarist Joshua Hayward and bassist Rhys Webb move on stage, it seems clear as to why they changed their sound from the garage rock of their debut to the grander sounds of their last two outings, and how it’s come to them so easily. Hayward creates sonic delicacies with his guitar and moves around the stage erratically as if the process is a current of pleasure running through his nervous system. Webb’s undercurrent of bass is embodied in the way he moves his hips fluidly and walks in circles as if swimming in the sea of joyous noise he’s having a part in creating. The whole band is dedicated to being a part of the sound. Faris Badwan may not seem so visually into the performance, but to claim that he isn’t bothered would be way off the mark; his live vocals are strong – perhaps surprisingly so – and his performances seem to come from the gut. He packs a definite punch on highlights like “Scarlet Fields” and the set-closing “Still Life.”

Towards the end of the set, Badwan dedicated fan favourite “Sea Within A Sea” to some faces in the crowd that he recognised from their show a few nights earlier across town in Pomona. It struck me as somewhat surprising that The Horrors have fans dedicated enough to pay to see them twice in such quick succession, but as the epic 8-minute tent pole unfolded it started to make perfect sense. No matter what size venue the band is playing, they’re still going to be as into their performance as ever, and nothing will enthral a crowd more effectively than that.

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