Every once in a while you hear a rumor that The Masquerade is closing. Sure, they leveled the industrial ruins next door, and across the street, City Hall East has been sold to a developer who is gutting it, and The Beltline now goes right behind there, but still the old venue keeps chugging along. Back in the 1990s i went there a lot to see, among many other bands, The Ramones, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, The Legendary Pink Dots, The Orb (twice!), Ween, etc. But the last time i had been there was two and a half years ago. I guess that tastes change, and The Masquerade just doesn't seem to host a lot of the indie pop i listen to these days.
Still, tonight's bill promised to be something else. We were going to see Social Studies, a San Francisco pop band whose promo team had sent us their second album. It's a strong record, with powerful female vocals and a deep indie dance pop groove to it, so i was really looking forward to seeing these guys live in the old space.
Indie pop was happening in Purgatory this night. Heaven was closed off, a bored security guard sitting on a stool in front of the stairs, huddled in his jacket against the cold. In the Hell level of the club, however, there was a show by Christian rock bands. I kid you not. Somewhere, the booking agent was laughing his ass off at the thought of making the Christian bands play in Hell.
But we were across the hallway, in the oddly configured Purgatory area. In the years since i had last been here, they have done some renovations. The stage is no longer in the corner -- it is now against the back wall of the building, butting up against The Beltline trail running behind it on the hill. The bar no longer juts out in the middle at the top of the stairs -- it is off in an alcove on the side. These changes make the room work a lot better.
We got there a little before nine and had a few minutes to wander around and look at the place. I will say this for The Masquerade: they run a tight ship. Each band had a 40 minute set (a little longer for the headliner), with sets starting on the hour. The sound guy would go around and herd up band members to get them set up on time. I fully support this tight adherence to a schedule.
Promptly at 9, a five-piece local act took the stage. They are called Loraine, and they are a post-rock act with three guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer.
Their music was, shall we say, Explosions in the Sky derived. That is: this was classic post-rock with complex rhythms and lots of different guitar layers. This is not the easiest type of music to play live, and at times when the band strove for odder time signatures, like 6/8, the drummer had a little bit harder of a time keeping up. However, their guitar work was excellent.
It is important to have a lot of pedals when you play post-rock.
Loraine are a young band -- seriously, were any of them even old enough to buy beer? -- and i admire them for trying to make this type of music. They succeeded fairly well, and i think in time will grow into something very interesting. Right now they are at that stage of simply imitating a style. I would like to see them break out a little bit, stretch themselves to add something new to this genre. I guess we will have to wait and see what happens.
They finished right on time and cleared out pretty quickly, and Social Studies set up. This was the band i was curious about. They are a 4-piece, and the first thing i noticed is that lead singer and keyboardist Natalia Rogovin had some amazing hair. I mean, she had a thick, dense mane of curls, just a mass of black hair. I, with my somewhat flat rapidly graying hair, was jealous. I can admit that.
Rogovin's lush, gorgeous textrured hair.
They started to play a little before 10. And it was brilliant. I am not familiar enough with their music to tell you want they played, but i know they hit a lot off of Developer, the album they are on tour for.
Rogovin's voice is rich, and she has powerful lungs, enable to really belt it out. Her bassist actually sang the higher register backing vocals, which nicely complimented her singing.
He also played really supple bass riffs, a nice rolling bass line in the songs. The drummer played sparsely, just a subtle rhythmic drive behind the songs. However, it was the guitarist i was impressed with. At times his playing had a new wave chiming, and i swear on one song he was playing old school Chicago blues, just long bent notes grinding along.
Even Ms. Rogovin sometimes couldn't believe how interesting her guitarist was.
The whole thing merged together really well, and the songs were catchy and grooved along. I found myself bouncing around, reveling in the sheer joy of music well-played live.
They played for about 40 minutes, and i loved every one of those minutes. This was, to be honest, the best set i have seen in a long time. These guys really know how to play, and they write good songs. I urge you to check them out if they play near you.
After they were done, i was fully satisfied with the evening. But there was still one more band to go, and since it was not even 11, we decided to stick around and see Ramona Falls.
This was a 4-piece act, a tall thin guy on keys, guitar, and voice. A female violinist, a bassist, and a drummer rounded out the band. The singer played at stage right, and the drummer set up on stage left, facing the singer.
The drummer was impressive. He was a younger, swarthy fellow in a cocked baseball cap that read "Certified Trucker", and man could he play! Not that the band was doing polyrhythms of anything in really weird time signatures, but his playing was masterful -- no wasted notes, just the minimal that was necessary to fill the space and fill it well. To be honest, i spent most of the show watching him play. He obviously enjoys what he is doing, and that shows through.
Drummers are very difficult to photograph.
Otherwise, Ramona Falls played a 50 minute or so set of catchy indie pop. The singer had a good voice, a little high but fine for what they were doing. The violin was a nice accompaniment behind the music, and at times when the violin stepped to the front of the sound, they almost reminded me of My Latest Novel.
So, for a band i had never heard of, they impressed. I guess i need to go track down one of their records.
Overall, this was a great night. And i was home before 12:30, which is really nice on a day when i had to get up before 6 AM in order to get to work.