I always seem to have a strange relationship with opening bands. Most of them make me feel either (a) completely disinterested (as was the case with the droning, unenthusiastic neo-country, Cowboy Junkies wannabes that opened for She & Him at the Troc in July) or (b) as though I am cheating on the musical love I paid to come see (as was the case last weekend when the California outfit Darker My Love opened for The Dandy Warhols at the TLA).
Because of the pre-show buzz and rollick that always seems to infect me whenever I go to a concert, I usually greet opening bands with a great response. If the band I am here to see loves these performers enough to take them on tour, I think, well then there must be something to dig. And usually I am correct to be so forgiving. Two years ago, Razorlight opened for Muse at the Wachovia center, and I left that show with a greater interest in and excitement for Razorlight than I did the headliners. When my sister and I went to see Rufus Wainwright at the Mann Center last summer, it was Neko Case’s brilliant opening performance that captured her soul. And last weekend, Darker My Love’s 45 minute set is what has stayed with me these past seven days.
To be sure, The Dandys were sub-par. Their performance was marred by a disproportionate ratio of their better post-pop ditties to those fuzzy, expansive shoe-gazer numbers they inexplicably love so much and that never seem to go anywhere; along with the sleepy, too-cool-for-school antics of a somewhat disinterested Courtney Taylor-Taylor who, amongst his many front-man sins poked fun at South Street several times (“It’s like a fucking mall out there. What’s that all about?”). Regardless, even had the main attraction delivered a stellar show, I still would have left with a newfound excitement for Darker My Love.
During their performance, my sister leaned in and said to me, “This band is everything Oasis still wishes they could be.” And while that may be overstating it a tad, she was right. The five-piece band delivered the kind of hard-driving, California psychedelia with Brit-pop twists for which American radio is in sore need right now. (See: “Summer Is Here”, a single that could have gotten phenomenal play during this past season of heat had it ever been given a chance.) The on-stage imagery—floating amebas, cellular blobs, and trippy swirls of god-knows-what projected on a large screen behind them—served to accent the influences even more, while the juxtaposition of front men Tim Presley (vocal and guitar) and Rob Barbato (vocal and bass) illustrated the wonderful aesthetic dichotomy present in some of America’s most exciting bands. Stage-left, Presley wore tight slacks and a shirt buttoned all the way to the neck, rocking a nostalgic British mop-top reminiscent of Roger Daltry circa 1965. All the while, Barbato’s lumberjack beard and layers of flannel grounded the visual experience in a cozy Northern Oregon woodsiness. They were a pleasure to hear and see.
It’s silly to talk about the salvation of rock and roll these days, because rock and roll for rock and roll’s sake is nothing worth fighting for. The evolution of pop music is as ceaseless and inevitable as the rotation of the Earth, a fact for which I am glad. I’m tired of making the case—and even more tired of hearing it made to me—that there are certain bands out there (are you listening Kings of Leon?) who subscribe to some sort of rock and roll purism that’s supposed to somehow be more nobel and righteous than the records produced by those who have no interest in recreating a sound Credence Clearwater Revival already mined 35 years ago. For example, as perhaps the greatest band of the last decade, Radiohead has not shown any need to partake in this silly nostalgia, instead choosing to let rock music evolve; to usher in a new way of making music that is both visceral and progressive at the same time.
Darker My Love seems to understand this principal (less in the way Radiohead does and more in the way, say, The Hold Steady does) and in doing so they may actually save rock and roll. Oh shit. Did I just say that? All of this is to say: give them a listen.