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Live Review and Photos: Wild Nothing and Abe Vigoda, March 4, 2011, Natural History Museum – Los Angeles, CA

I was standing outside, talking to a band that was not on the bill last Friday (Arial Stereo), when one of them said something that stuck with me: “I can’t think of a cooler venue to play a show than the Hall of Mammals.” Has ever a more true statement been said? The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles opens its doors in the evening on the first friday of every month, turning the geeky exhibit halls into a happening club. In one room DJs spin sets while people lounge and drink. Other wings are open for attendees to visit the insect zoo or check out a giant whale skeleton. And in one of the wings of the Hall of Mammals, which features exhibit windows of stuffed animal replicas in what appears to be their natural habitats, a stage is set up for bands.

Now, I’ve talked to people who have seen the Wild Nothing and Abe Vigoda tour and heard mixed reactions, coming to the conclusion that Wild Nothing is not necessarily the best bar band. But on this, the last night of their tour together, a pretty-much perfect venue was chosen to display the song-writing talents of Jack Tatum. You could say he was in his natural habitat as well. (Admit it, that was a good line right there.)

Local outfit Abe Vigoda played first, starting at 8pm for supportive and familiar crowd. One member even noted that he remembered taking a field trip to the museum when he was young, which I would later discover was a popular experience for people who went to elementary school in L.A. Now, if you are familiar with Abe Vigoda, well, there is a chance that you are mistaken and are not really familiar with Abe Vigoda. A friend/photographer noted to me that she was giving the band one last chance after not being impressed by earlier shows. But this is not really the same band. Sure, it is the same band members, but they have really pushed their sound into more interesting territory with the addition of heavy synth and a darker tone.

Most remarkable about the transformation of Abe Vigoda, though, is how after a few numbers, you can begin to hear the tropical rhythms that I used to associate with the band. Some would quickly say the band had totally changed, but a keen listener will notice it as more of a transformation. It will be interesting to see how these all evolve for their next record, as their sound evolution can be anyone’s guess. Regardless, they provided an energetic opening set, all taking place in front of a buffalo herd walking across the great plains in front of snowy mountain peaks.

Though there were bars set up in nearly every corner, the crowd was generally docile for Wild Nothing’s set. That isn’t to say they were unenthusiastic. There was plenty of dancing and even a few young ladies who caught “Wild Nothing Mania” and screamed at the top of their lungs like Tatum was Justin Bieber. Which is kind of funny because even though Tatum possesses some classic good looks, Bieber’s greatest talent, his voice, is Tatum’s weakest. Not to say that Tatum has a bad voice at all, just that live he has trouble emulating the falsettos and high notes that would be difficult for anyone.

However, Tatum makes up for it in other ways. Second song “Live In Dreams” gets an octave switch in the chorus that plays nicely live, showing that Tatum will make up for the notes he can’t hit by throwing some difficulty points in other spots, though I have to admit the chorus of “Confirmation,” just didn’t cut it.

After “Live In Dreams,” the band produced a beefed-up version of “Gemini,” that, along with many of the up-beat songs, benefited fromt the dual guitar/bass/drums lineup (Abe Vigoda’s drummer played bass for Wild Nothing). “Gemini” in particular, one of my least favorite songs from the album, soared live. “Golden Haze,” from the Evertide EP also was a mover for the crowd, and the band seemed to take a cue and swing their instruments with a little extra zeal. Rounding out the set were fan favorite “Chinatown” and set closer “Summer Holiday,” both aces the band can always keep in their pocket.

And of course, the band brought out their cover of Primal Scream’s “Velocity Girl,” which just kills live. Tatum almost sounds more relaxed when he is singing other people’s lyrics. Fortunately for him (and for us), his songs are just too good to abandon for a career as a cover artist. This was never more clear than during the encore of “Bored Games,” one of the band’s most unique and beautiful songs. You couldn’t help but think when Tatum sang “Where are you going, can I come with you?” that a part of him felt that for the adoring audience. But, more likely, the song was for Abe Vigoda, who shared embraces with Wild Nothing after the set, as it was the last day of their tour together. The audience didn’t get such a goodbye from Tatum and company, but it sure felt like it.

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