I'm knee deep in my summer of indulgence. A better jag than my usual summers of indolence. I've had plenty to write about from So. Cal's east, Inland and adjacent, including a "geographies of Long Beach Pride" meditation (technically south...but "the east is so many things" qua Electrelane). The LBC pride chat has been wedged in the back of my foggy noggin ever since my Delta y Kappa posse collectively gorged a Medieval Times-inspired roasted turkey leg before Jennifer Hudson's set on the mainstage. But today, with the slight shiver of an L.A. June gloom in the air, and with a faded base-tan from my own recent overcast off-days spent rolling in the sand in Laguna and Malibu, I'm going to wax tender about my week spent gloriously awash in the sounds of another beach town's finest, Brighton's ELECTRELANE.
I'm a relative latecomer to the band's music, which is to be expected from an I.E. popslut, no doubt. I'd only heard of them about 3 years ago despite their nearly decade-long career, and went to see them for the first time at the Troubadour in 2005 when they opened for Dutch punk grandaddies, The Ex. I was actually lured to the show by a coterie of academic friends, one of whom had (and I presume still has) an intense fanboy lust for guitarist, Mia Clarke. I came away from the show enamored of the all-female band from Brighton and less than enthused by the rage-against-age Nederlander masculinity of The Ex.
Little did I realize that later that same year, Electrelane's music would serve as the soundtrack for the torturous unfurling of my own new love story, my own new sense of desire, friendship and place. The Kangagi brought Electrelane full force into my life with a mournful mix simply dubbed "Late Nights." It was quickly loaded to my pod as I retreated to Europa, Europa to sort things out over winter break, where I listened to "Birds" on endless, interpretive repeat as I wandered through Deutschland forests and sludgy Parisian streets trying to figure out what the sonic narrative meant to us. Would mean for us.
In retrospect some obscurists and completists would call us out for our trite song choice--for scoring a made-for-tv moment of puppy love to the melodic single instead of to one of the band's more sweeping and "cinematic" instrumental explorations. But aren't the predictable conventions of love part of what endows the whole experience with an element of formalist pleasure? And isn't it that same, strange dialectic of urgent improvisation and impeccable formalism that makes Electrelane sound so fucking good?
Two years since and the Kangagi and I are jolly muppets in love who get to hang with the band--and most importantly, we get to hear them play live whenever they roll through So. Cali. You see, little did I know in the midst of all my Shelleyan brooding that Kangagi's good pal (let's call her D.Mac for the purposes of this blog) is lovebirds with the incomparable Emma Gaze, resident heartthrob and co-founder of Electrelane, along with vocalist, keyboardist, virtuoso, Verity Susman (alter-ego Vera November). Emma (E-z) is not only an "ace" of a good time (did I use that Brit idiom properly?), but she drums with the disciplined antsiness of a British schoolboy. At least she does in my imaginary, which is shaped by grad skool Victoriana and Inland Empire New Ro' Anglophilia. I mean it as the highest of compliments.
This week we had several Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous (but much cooler) moments courtesy of D. Mac and E-z, be it peeking from the wings at the sold out crowds at the Greek as Arcade Fire rumbled through their set, or smoking responsibly on the tour bus so as not to set Griffith Park ablaze. It was also on the bus where we got to hear pocket-sized mack daddy bassist, Ros Murray, wax poetic about the facial expressions of Mary Lynn Rasjkub (aka Chloe O'Brian) on 24. Perhaps this obsession with tempo and gesture in its primetime formats is what makes Ros the kind of languidly cool bass player who can keep a rhythm section honest.
But the best moments were reserved for their return to the Troubadour last night. This time, Electrelane were the headliners of a sold-out show. While catching them on tour with Arcade Fire, one of the moment's IT bands from Canadia, is certainly something to behold, especially in an atmosphere of nachos, tumblers of beer and backwards baseball caps at the corporatized Greek, there's nothing like seeing the band in their own moment, amongst their own fans in the admittedly gentrified but still studiously scruffy Troub.
Opening for them was the French queer popster and one-woman tour de force, Tender Forever. TF served up delcious nibbles of chanson in a sonorous rasp that would make Bjork jealous. Melanie Valera (she who is forever tender) provided one of the evening's best moments when she covered Justin Timberlake's "My Love" with just her voice and a ukelele, subsequently making the pop whores amongst us ticklish and grateful, while challenging the hipster-curious to loosen up a bit and quit pretending to hate melodies.
By the time Electrelane took the stage the crowd was squirming with anticipation. They were ready to genuflect before Verity's power chords on the organ and Mia's metal-jam riffs delivered with such elegant control that it was like seeing some wild, pheromonic scent harvested into a precious glassblown bottle of eau de toilette. A few tunes in, Electrelane played their latest single, "To the East," an Ostalgie lovesong saturated with a kind of wistful comfort. Any song with a nod to Gdansk (a place I fetishized as the site of a major women's tennis tournament in my proto frat-dyke days) deserves to be a hit.
From my vantage point at the far end of stage left, I could see the band was begging for more on the monitors. But regardless of what they might've heard from onstage, the sound was perfect. The band was tight and sonically communicative with each other, as well as the audience. The rhythm section was precise, the proggy progressions and jams were disarming rather than intimidating. The crowd shouted. The crowd called. As my desperate grasp at the eau de toilette metaphor above belies, I actually don't feel like I have the capacity to describe what I heard, saw and felt on stage last night with any veracity or eloquence. If there were enough youtubers in the world, I suppose I'd be able to find a lovely bootleg clip of Electrelane performing their signature cover of Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" as their encore. Instead, I'll close with a vid clip of their new single from No Shouts, No Calls.
"It could be home...it could be home...it could be home..."
For now this music is.
Rollin' deep in the heart of the I.E. through the gnarled concrete arteries of 60+10+91 east to neon sunsets and Naugles, Taco Tia, the Mad/Friendly/Happy or Lucky Greek,The Menagerie, Spanky's, Butch's Grinders, The Denny's Cocktail Lounge at Hardman Center (in pace requiescat). We spell Paris P-E-R-R-I-S, bitches!