Tuesday, June 24, 2008

on the bubble

I have a pathetic track record when it comes to the Broken West. For no good reason, I've missed them more times than I've seen them--as recently as back in February for Noise Pop. However, I managed to get my act together for this show and buy a ticket in advance. What a concept! Next thing you know, I'll also learn how to enjoy music in an electronic form, perhaps acquired through a computer interface (patent pending).

Broken West, Bottom of the Hill, June 22, 2008: It's no secret that I've become entrenched in certain concertgoing habits. I can give you a million reasons why, but it doesn't really matter. Simply, I don't see as many bands, especially newer ones, as I used to. This, combined with the fact that the musicians I stalk see most often are well established, has shut me off from what I imagine is a reality for most touring musicians: sparsely attended gigs at smallish bars--albeit at Bottom of the Hill, one of the coolest venues in the city.

For the music nerd, those relatively empty gigs can be a badge of pride, a sign that whatever band you dig isn't trendy, overexposed, or about to be plastered on legions of teenage girls' walls any time soon. On the other hand, it's frustrating to see a band you like struggling to bring in the crowds they deserve. The latter prevailed at this show, which counted maybe a few dozen people in the audience.

Broken West, Bottom of the Hill, June 22, 2008

Despite my consternation, the band put on a good gig anyway. I say "good" because, as much as I love I Can't Go On, I'll Go On (my favorite album of last year), the group's live incarnation hasn't exactly sent me seizing on superlatives. Then again, I've learned that a band's studio and live representations may have little to do with one another, so I tend to judge them on their own merits. The Broken West is a solid live act, and the music is great--those are the reasons I come back to see them (when I remember).

Oddly, tonight's show was the best they've sounded to these ears, probably due to the venue itself. At both Cafe du Nord and Bimbo's, they came across as somewhat muddy, but there was no mistaking those gorgeous jangly riffs and subtle harmonies tonight. If I clapped my hands raw keeping time with "Down in the Valley" or threw my back out bobbing to that infectious stop-start rhythm of "Big City," it would all be for a good cause.

Julie tells me that at their show in February, they tried out a lot of new material, and that seemed to be the case tonight as well. If what I heard is anything to go by, the works in progress definitely diverge from that sun-kissed, patently California sound of their debut record. If you (like me) got into the Byrds/Teenage Fanclub/Wilco-like feel of that album, don't worry--they haven't abandoned those layered hooks and tuneful sounds.

But some of the new songs exhibited a darker tone and a knowing swagger, sounding downright slinky in parts. You could even hear a drum machine on a couple of tracks! Good-bye Mr. Tambourine Man, hello Echo and the Bunnymen? Well, no, not even close--but something's certainly afoot in Silverlake. I'm staying tuned to find out more.

Addendum: According to the band's MySpace page, their sophomore album Now or Heaven is coming out September 9 on Merge, and you can hear a new track "Perfect Games." Yay, a reason to make it through the summer!

See also:
» top albums and gigs of 2007
» you can fall in love with every other soul you meet
» it spoke of secret fortune
» The Broken West on MySpace

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