Ambulance Ltd :: 03.26.05 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA

Ambulance Ltd :: 3.26 :: SF :: By Bradly Bifulco
Last year, Ambulance Ltd put out a masterful record entitled simply LP [stream it now with Rhapsody]. It's one of those albums where you know it's good after one listen, and it keeps getting better. It's a record where someone asks you to tell them the best song, and you can't choose between four or five. The level of quality is so uniformly high, that it is hard to pick out the tops. After catching their set that was simply too short at SXSW (where it's rare to stay for an entire set), I was fired up to see them on our "home court" - at The Independent in San Francisco.

The opening act was Dr. Dog, and I had also learned of their magic at SXSW. Dr. Dog is from Philly, but they got lost somewhere while out on the Magical Mystery Tour. They have a wonderful record coming out in May on National Parking, and from all signs at the show, they can bring it live as well as in the studio.

Ambulance Ltd by Tuben
LP is a carefully crafted debut album after an older EP, aptly titled EP. LP has the mark of a great album - no matter the mood, you can pop it in and listen to it straight through. On this night, they played several of their strongest arrangements, including "Heavy Lifting," "Ophelia," "Swim," and "Primitive."

While Ambulance can be caught drawing from many of the styles from which jam outfits have grown, this is far from a jam band. Long meandering jams do not really exist - the set was just solid, song after song, start to finish. Another difference is the buzz, their single "Primitive" was already on The O.C. (the TV show), and the video is making its way across the Internet near you and video channels that actually play videos.

The band first met a few years ago in NYC but comes from lands as diverse as Oregon, Ireland, and New York. Although lead singer Marcus Congleton sounds like he could be related to Badly Drawn Boy, he actually hails from Eugene, Oregon. At age 16, Marcus saw his first Grateful Dead show in Eugene when his parents gave him a ticket. Marcus says he didn't see more than 20 minutes of music, but it was not the music that drove him away, it was that strange out-of-body feeling.

Ambulance Ltd by Tuben
I asked Marcus about his first influences, and he placed them somewhere between GnR's Appetite for Destruction and the first Tone-Loc record. I asked the drummer Darren Beckett about any Beatles influence, and while not admitting any specific influences, he remarked, "You can't get away from the Beatles."

The highlight of the night (and of the album, if I absolutely have to pick one) was "Stay Where You Are." "Stay Where You Are" is both psychedelic space and gorgeous bubblegum pop in under six minutes. It was played without the extended intro, but a rare jam section was packed into the song, which made it stand out as a clear highlight.

If you're wondering if they say "limited" or "ltd," you can drop both and just call them "Ambulance." Media comparisons to The Beatles, Stone Roses, The Kinks, My Bloody Valentine, and Elliott Smith are all sort of there, but the band weaves the old yarns into a vibrant shawl of songs, all of which are well-written harmonic numbers insinuating a relationship with guitar rock and roll from the early 60's to the 90's.

And while a short, one set show is the difference in these indie rock bands that we go see now; this is not whiny indie rock. It's more melodic, more original and still with solid musicianship. If you get the chance to see Ambulance, it will be an hour well spent. And be sure to stay for the encore - they have been absolutely killing Pink Floyd's "Fearless" - a superb version, note for note, everything but the soccer chanting.

As for the rest of 2005, look for Ambulance Ltd to do some recording in June and to hit Europe in July. In the short term, get a hold of this LP.

Ted Kartzman
JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 4/21/05]

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