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Live Review and Photos: Warpaint, December 12, 2010, The Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA

For the local rock musicians in Los Angeles, there are certain rites of passage to measure a band’s level of success. These, of course, change from decade to decade, as playing the Whiskey A-Go-Go or the Roxy are hardly prestigious anymore. Now your success can be better measured by your first headlining gig at the Echo or moving from the Echo to the Echoplex (Tame Impala just made the leap last night), with the peak usually arriving as the headliner at the Hollywood Bowl, which seems to be getting friendlier and friendlier to  younger audiences, a la Phoenix and Vampire Weekend.

But one level, the one with perhaps the most tradition in the city, is selling out the Troubadour. The interior of the small West Hollywood club is decorated with music memorabilia from past performers that would impress even the most pretentious of hipsters, including posters spanning from Elton John to Spoon. But for local bands, it’s an even bigger deal. Earlier this year, Avi Buffalo sold out the joint for his record release party and Best Coast just debuted there with two sold out nights in November. Sure Warpaint had played the small room before, supporting the likes of School of Seven Bells and a couple of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but the Friday and Sunday shows of last weekend were homecoming shows. Warpaint has been touring for nearly two years straight, finally released their acclaimed full-length debut, The Fool, and had returned home as another LA success story in a year full of them.

So Sunday Night’s finale before a deserved break until February (minus a New Years Eve show in Texas) would be explosive, considering the girls’ reputation, right?

Not so much. Sunday’s show did bring out a new side of Warpaint, though, with the four-piece appearing as savvy veterans rather than the band that in actuality is about two months past their first album release. They played knowing it just wasn’t their night. Whether they were tired, bothered by sound problems, or if they were just too stoned, something was off, and their faces told the story. But they didn’t let it win, whatever it was, and ended up with a more memorable show than the previous outings I had taken in.

I was lucky enough to catch Warpaint at three festivals this summer, and their initial draws include their loose jamming, the vocalists’ unique charisma, and their modest confidence, all of which allow them to own every outdoor stage that they play. But in this intimate  venue, it was as if the tight quarters suffocated their usual free spirits. Most striking was that they did not appear to be having fun, something they always appear to be doing. Bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg stood facing Stella Mozgawa’s drum kit for the majority of the show, playing with her usual expertise but without the flare that makes watching the band so fun. Theresa Wayman also had hardly a smile to share, with Emily Kokal left with the sole responsibility of relating to the crowd

This was also a difficult task, with the show’s quick sellout blocking the typical Silver Lake crowd of supporters that pepper their usual appearances, who rarely buy tickets in advance. But the one-two punch of “Composure” and “Undertow,” both with Kokal at the helm, righted the ship and got the sedate crowd to ditch their self-consciousness and start grooving. From there, the band slipped into a better rhythm, giving the fans their money’s worth with a nearly 90-minute set featuring every song but two from their recording history. The strongest series was the encore, with “Baby” coming across as a stunner. Wayman and Lindberg provided gentle backing to Kokal’s half romantic/half frightening plea, and the result was the most emotionally captivating moment of the night. This was all backed by projected art pieces, typically hip in their aesthetic (a shark at one point, their bones-logo thingy often) and honestly the effect of the projections didn’t seem to work well because of the awkward shape of the venue.

From the gentlest song of the night, Warpaint concluded with a `barnstormer in “Beetles,” with, again, Kokal stealing the spotlight and the whole band building to an upper-cut of a crescendo, the kind that you would use in Street Fighter to finish off an opponent (a “tiger upper-cut”, I believe). At the electric finish, Mozgawa leaped from her stool and raised her sticks into the air in victory. The crowd, mostly comprised of new Warpaint concertgoers, seemed happy with their decision for the evening, but it’s hard to say how many would come again, or how many people the show converted into ardent Warpant supporters in general.

But the band sent the reassuring message that even on their more difficult days, they will work their asses off. There’s no doubt there will there will be more days like this where the show is simply about surviving. And Warpaint survived without a scratch.

Warpaint Setlist:
Set Your Arms Down


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