Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Dave Vann
Big Light/Everest :: 03.04.10 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA
Rock 'n' roll is alive and well, and I know this because of another faith affirming night at The Independent. There's so many winning, pleasure inspiring aspects to rock as it is that often the best times occur when bands simply rub our noses in all the musky, tormented, turned-on, foot stomping things that keeps the genre rolling along. However, this only really works if the participants onstage truly believe rock has the power to liberate us – a potential beyond merely putting together songs and playing them for folks. And the sweat and strut of all three bands on this bill announced that they'd long ago committed their souls to the cause and were ready to take the rest of us along with them.
Entering to the seductively curved, thick vibe of Guns For San Sebastian one felt in their bones that good times lay ahead. That's a powerful trick up any group's sleeve, and GFSS kept up this sleight-of-hand throughout their tight, dynamic set. This S.F.-based quintet plied dead sexy material and looked good doing it in suits and ties. There's a touch of Bad Company and Prince to them, particularly the exposed, potent pipes of lead singer Charlie Marvin and the jazz-inflected grope of lead guitarist Lorne Smith. The blues are also in the mix, and I'm talking 1960s electric revival blues, the kind that sells shots and gets folks laid. Just based on this small taste, Guns For San Sebastian are well worth looking into. And hipster bonus points for naming themselves after a fab '60s spaghetti western featuring Charles Bronson and Anthony Quinn.
Watching Everest writhe dexterously it was hard to escape the feeling that we were witnessing the ascent of one of today's great rock bands. Loaded claim but everything about these Los Angeles vets screams "classic," right down to their rumpled, charismatic look and everything-on-the-table energy. While only officially a few years old, this band boasts guys who've been chasing the dream for years in different bands before coalescing in Everest in 2008. Russell Pollard (lead vocals, guitar, drums, lyricist), Jason Soda (guitar, keys, vocals), Joel Graves (guitar, keys, vocals), Elijah Thomson (bass, vocals) and Davey Latter (drums, percussion) offer quality craftsmanship in songwriting, musicianship, studio savvy and live execution, a callback to a time when band's earned their stripes and honed their individual sound through long miles, constant vigilance, naked musical curiosity and unrelenting dedication to bettering their music at all times. Little wonder that they've attracted the attention of Neil Young, whose Vapor Records put out Everest's debut, Ghost Notes, and will release their stunning sophomore spinner On Approach on April 20, 2010.
While the crowd was packed with Big Light's hometown faithful, those that tuned into Everest mostly wound up wowed and a touch slack-jawed. Heavy, befuzzed new one "I've Had This Feeling Before" piled on triple guitar goodness and was one of several numbers that felt like future concert staples likely to evolve into extended, shattering workouts. The sense of barely tapped but enormous potential lurks within all the new cuts, and the dovetailing evolution of the earlier catalog feels like everything is coming into sharp focus for Everest. As Ms. Penny Lane once said, it's all happening.
|Dan Lebowitz (ALO) w/ Big Light :: 03.04 :: San Francisco|
Everest understands the power of amp shaking bigness and the smaller potency of pop shorthand, often exhibited in their concise track lengths and lyrical bent, which anchors universal lines like "I need time to make this right" or "It's good to be alone" to fully developed melodies textured with care by the entire band. With one of the finest, most versatile, least guarded lead singers going and an interlocked group unity, Everest was by turns lovely and shaking, aggressive and feather light, jangly and mean, jammy and focused. If you met them even halfway during this set you found rockers who represent the whole package. Won't be long before they're not opening for anybody anymore, if there's any justice.
Big Light had played The Independent a number of times but never as the main event on a big night like this. From their blistering opener "Heavy" all the way through to the end, they played like headliners and future rock stars. I offer either of these observations with serious care - it's never wise to stoke musician dreams if there's no substance or real shot. Big Light's performance this night completely affirmed all the faith and great love that's already shined down on this Bay Area comer in the past year. Beginning with one of their tried-and-true staples was a fine move since it both instantly calmed any nerves about being at the top of the bill (especially after Everest's powerhouse display) and gathered up the packed in audience with a strong, sure hand. Big Light is most commanding when they play right to their strengths, which they did all night, exposing the nitty gritty, grin inducing rock children at their core.
Looking Trouser Press cool, swathed in smoke and exhilarating lights, dressed in mostly black and oozing surprised confidence, Big Light showed off the best they've got in them. In some ways, it's their rawness and directness that really grips one. Drummer Bradly Bifulco could be the Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick) of his generation, keeping time with power and effective purity that highlights the band's general modus operandi – i.e. an active desire to connect with people and their lives in ways that make them shake off concerns and dance into a better place. As I've pointed out before, their name fits them well because they really do strive to bring illumination to darkness, sunshine to life in the shadows. The Trouser Press reference isn't casual; Big Light has the markings of enduring cult darlings The dB's, The Sneetches, Let's Active, The Soft Boys and the like, plus more pronounced pop chops akin to the aforementioned Cheap Trick and clear inspiration Wilco. And all this positive stuff was on giddy, bouncing display at this gig.
|Fred Torphy - Big Light :: 03.04 :: San Francisco|
There's no mistaking when a band is feeling their oats, and within a few songs Big Light settled into a groove that worked for them and just tore ass towards the climactic finish. Fresh cuts like "Monster" and "Superfuzz Fine" off their boffo debut (JamBase review) exploded live, only increasing the sense that one day we might see this band cavorting on MTV. Hooky and deliriously delivered, these songs and many others in the set simply made people shine brightly, happy in the here and now and feeling blessed to be awash in such pleasant sounds. It's a point I'm harping on a bit in 2010, but music that encourages us to rise, to reflect on what's good in our lives, is necessary and highly welcome. There's so much dragging us down – dusty bank accounts, gridlocked politics, unstable jobs, ludicrous social tribalism – and art that offers respite from this crapola is a particular boon right now. Big Light specializes in rock of this sort, and even manages to slip some subtle substance into their catchy-as-shit tunes. Taken to the stage like this night, it's an especially successful commingling of elements and one that's likely to continue to woo many new fans as they take this show on the road this year.
Big Light make their SXSW debut in Austin this week at the Relix Party and Kayceman's Treehouse.
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