Sun Araw and Warm Climate - Hard Rock Cafe - 8/3/11
Better Than: The Elvis impersonator at Palm Thai.
"Had we known it was gonna be like this, we might have done it a little differently."
Cameron Stallones, of the dub-inflected zones of Sun Araw, is talking about tonight's concert at the Hard Rock Café, where tourist families are trying to talk to each other darnit, and couples on date night are staring at the stage, then their nachos, then each other, in stupefied silence. Stallones says he's played in dining establishments before, but this is the first time he had to turn it down so more patrons wouldn't leave.
No, this was not a hard rocking show. But when a psych supergroup covers Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque for LA Weekly's RE:Play LA series, it might be more of a power-pop affair.
When Stallones was asked to participate in the series -- where local buzz bands cover their favorite albums -- his answer surprised us. Bandwagonesque, released in 1991 and now considered somewhat of a riposte to grunge, is relentlessly up. Heavily indebted to Big Star and Dinosaur Jr., it's a record of beautiful harmonies and crisp, jangly guitars, tying bouncy chord changes to sardonic tales of heartbreak. Not that Sun Araw's sweaty psychedelia isn't up, or even a little catchy. It's just totally different. "My songs are in keys or modes," he says. "I'm not sure there's a single chord change in any of them." (Except for his cover of Fanclub's "December," on his recent Houston Abstros seven-inch.)
So imagine my surprise when Stallones nails the first line of "The Concept" ("She wears denim wherever she goes / says she's gonna get some records by the Status Quo") and his backing band, the equally out-there Not Not Fun associates Warm Climate, gamely hit the harmonies and guitar solos. And what follows is pretty much a faithful rendition of Bandwagonesque, played by a four-piece rock band fanning out over an ultimate album.
I talked to the band after the set, and they described their endeavor as a kind of wish fulfillment, paying homage to a work while simultaneously fixing it. On the album, "all the weird guitar shit is buried," says drummer Caitlin C. Mitchell. "What's left is so compressed and '90s sounding." So tonight, on "Guiding Star," the barely discernable beeps and bloops of a late album ballad are brought to the fore. And on "Pet Rock," Stallones warms up what he calls a "cold" album, flanging the chords and creating rhythm with echoes and ripples.
Radical interpretation it's not. But it's a kick watching these four dubheads moonlight as a cheeseburger band, and a pretty good one at that; witness the unwitting audience draw closer when guitarist Seth Kasselman, flanked on both sides of the stage by leather pants belonging to Frank Zappa and Jim Morrison, indulges in a bluesy solo on "I Don't Know." (They sit back down during the next song, the anthemic "Star Sign," which the band excitedly tackles with a screaming guitar riff.) At times, the band comes close to the heavy boogie of Awesome Color or Oneida, rock bands who let a good groove breathe.
There is a crass lameness about the Hard Rock Café. But it understands the appeal of the artifact, and how those who are "addicted to the myths of pop music" find meaning in it. Now say the name Teenage Fanclub out loud. Imagine them having some fun here. I think they'd be tickled to find Bandwagonesque as an artifact of its own.
Sam Bloch "Somebody needs to look at Bo Diddley's guitar," Stallone says. "There's an ecosystem growing under the glass."
Personal Bias: I love Hard Rock Café sweaters.
Crowd: Grandma plugging her ears over there, some Jeff Lynne lookalike in a band t-shirt and New Balances over here.
Random Notebook Dump: Stallones waited for "I Gotta Feeling" to finish before starting the set.
Set list below.