VNV Nation Live at The Mayan, Los Angeles

Concert Review by KUCI DJ Jesse Morales of The Bat Cave (Sun 2-4am). 

VNV Nation recently played The Mayan in LA.  The show was what you would expect any EBM show to be, heavy beats and raw synthesizers.  However, The two main members of the band, Ronan Harris on vocals and Mark Jackson on drums, accompanied by two other keyboard players, gave the audience an experience that they won’t soon forget.

More than a few heavy synth lines and infectious beats, Harris’ energy on stage was inspiring and his connection with the audience was genuine.  You almost felt like he was glad that you personally showed up. That kind of presence on stage really made for an intimate and enjoyable experience.  All throughout the night Harris made several comments to individual audience members, acknowledging their presence and giving them a truly unique experience.  One audience member managed to offer Harris his dog tags, to which Harris was hesitant to accept.  

All the hits were present in the setlist.  Songs like Chrome, Control, Illusion, Matter and Form and Perpetual gave the audience the experience they were undoubtedly hoping for.  A show like this was a true gift to any VNV Nation fan and I would highly recommend keeping your eyes and ears open for future show, especially if you missed this one.

A Tale of Two Brothers: The National at the Shrine Auditorium, March 25 2014

Concert Review & Photos by KUCI DJ Stephan Masnyj.

     The National performed at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles last Tuesday to promote their latest record, “Trouble Will Find Me,” and also to premiere their documentary Mistaken for Strangers for the first time to the general public. However, based on the packed crowd and buzzing atmosphere throughout the entire night, Matthew Berninger and co. were anything but strangers to the 6,300 fans in attendance.

     The evening began with Tom Berninger, the lead singer’s younger brother and director of Mistaken for Strangers, introducing his documentary to the crowd. The movie was filmed during the band’s tour for “High Violet,” which stands today as the group’s greatest and most popular work, and served as the breakout moment for a band who were always critical darlings, but failed to achieve the widespread acknowledgment they deserved up until that point. The film’s inception began when Matthew attempted to help out his younger brother by hiring him as a roadie in order to get him out of their parent’s basement and begin working again. Tom brings a camera on tour in hopes of filming a rock documentary that will capture the crazy rock and roll lifestyle that he believed his brother led, but becomes bewildered when the bulk of his time is making sure his brother’s band has enough Toblerone as opposed to partying. The documentary is relentlessly charming and hilarious throughout, and progressively becomes more about the bond Matthew and Tom share as brothers and less about the band itself as it progresses. Tom, much like his brother, has a knack for putting his emotions at the forefront of his work, and films himself as he struggles with his own purpose in life in relation with his brother’s successes. “I just want to make something good. Good for my brother, good for my parents, and good for myself,” Tom explains while crying to himself. Whereas older brother Matthew displays his pent up, anxiety ridden emotions in his albums and his brooding demeanor onstage during the band’s live show, Tom’s display of emotion is more akin to that of a lovable loser; you can’t help but cheer the guy on as he sifts through his hours of film in order to make something worthwhile out of it.

     The film’s most touching moment is when Tom interviews his parents, prodding them as to how they see him in relation to his older, more successful brother. The father is unapologetically blunt; “Well, your brother obviously has had more success with his band, they’re very popular within the indie rock circle.” The words, while undoubtedly true, still sting when said out loud, and draw sighs from the entire audience.

     Tom and Matt’s mother is a little more forgiving. “You’ve both been successful through life” she begins to explain Tom.

      “I have not been successful,” Tom interjects. “Not at all.”

       “You will be Tom, I know you’re going to be successful,” she explains. Luckily, for Tom and everyone in the audience, she was right. Mistaken for Strangers is a funny, genuinely touching look at a bond between two brothers in spite of the different lifestyles they lead, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

     Following the documentary’s premiere the band performed a raucous, hour and 40 minute set that drew heavily from their excellent new record “Trouble Will Find Me.” The band was in top form throughout, and Matt spent most of his mid-song chatter to talk up his brother’s documentary. “This next song is dedicated to my brother. He thinks the song is about sitting on a bunch of salt, but it’s actually about him,” he explains as he introduces “I Should Live In Salt.” The band’s performance is bolstered by an excellent horn section, which provides an added oomph to songs to renditions of “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Fake Empire.” The show also does an exemplary job of showing why Matthew Berninger remains one of the more magnetic frontmen in indie rock; he frequently paces the stage back and forth, banging the microphone on his head, screaming at particular points in songs, and taking swigs from a wine bottle in between songs. While Berninger’s lyrics do most of the emotional heavy lifting in The National’s recorded efforts, it’s the singer’s stage presence that truly sells each song’s tense anxiety during the show, and is a wonder to behold. The band does a good job of staying true to the recorded versions of each song, but the show’s most arresting moments arrive when they veer off the tracks; “Squalor Victoria” is beefed up with a drum solo and horn outro, and Trouble Will Find Me’s “Humiliation” enters a extended groove while Berninger screams and throws his body into one of the speakers. The concert ended with a stunning, all-acoustic version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks,” and the band cajoled the whole crowd into singing along to the entire arrangement. It stands as a testament that while The National quickly find themselves filling larger and larger venues, they have no problem making an auditorium as intimate as the small clubs they played 15 years ago.

     Mistaken for Strangers ends with live footage of a performance of “Terrible Love,” the penultimate song in every National concert. The footage focuses on Tom’s humiliating job during the performance, as he’s relegated to holding the microphone cord and holding his brother up as Matthew darts through the crowd and runs through the aisles singing. The footage is meant to be lighthearted, and it is; eliciting laughs from the audience at the Shrine. The band pulled the same stunt at the concert following the documentary, and Tom joined his brother once again in holding the microphone cord as Matt shakily stood on the seats of the Shrine’s ground floor. However, instead of being ignored by the crowd, both brothers received equal applause throughout the song. Matthew turned around and smiled at his brother as he fumbled with the excess of cords around his arms, and ran back and embraced the younger Tom in a hug, which elicited the loudest cheers of the night. To the crowd of 6,300 watching that night, it didn’t matter which brother was an international rock star and which one still lived with their parents; they were both equally successful.

Set List

Don’t Swallow the Cap
I Should Live in Salt
Mistaken for Strangers
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Sea of Love

Hard to Find
Afraid of Everyone
Squalor Victoria
I Need My Girl
This is the Last Time
Full of Wine (stopped)
Abel!
Slow Show
Pink Rabbits
England
Graceless
Fake Empire

Encore

Humiliation
Mr. November
Terrible Love
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks (Acoustic)

Mistaken For Strangers is now being played in theaters, and available for rent on iTunes and mistakenforstrangersmovie.com 

SPLASHH Interview by Archie Xin

We caught up with the next big thing SPLASHH before their first show of 2014 @ The Echo. While their guitarist Toto was taking a shower, and the new member Joey on keyboard chilling on sofa. We talked to the vocal/guitarist Sasha and the bassist Tom about AIR, being an internationally based Australian band, their plans for the next record and SPLASHH Festival line-up.

1. I know you guys are all from different countries. So how did you guys come together as a band?

TOM: well, we are met in London really, like I mean, Toto and I have been living there for 5 years, and then Sasha was over there for a bit, and he came up about 2 years ago,

SASHA: I was living in Sydney. (So you’re from Australia?) Uhm kind of yeah, Between New Zealand and Australia. Just through traveling i guess.

TOM: Ye, just meet your friends really, in London.

SASHA: But our band is not from London, (Then where do you think the band is from?) I guess it’s more Australian isn’t it?

TOM: There’s not really a “Base”

SASHA: We can’t just continue to move around with a base in New York or London.

2.  Do you still remember the first record you bought ?

SASHA: I might have bought Thriller by Michael Jackson. (laugh) Yes, that was my first one.

TOM: I don’t remember most of them actually, probably something ridiculous, probably something Ricky Martin. (laugh)

3. What are the bands youve been listening to recently?

TOM: Loads of AIR really, isn’t it?

SASHA: AIR. (Where are they come from?) They’re from France.

TOM: And LCD Soundsystem.

 4. What do you think is the best thing of being on tour?

TOM: Just traveling around really, I think. You don’t often get to go to many places for a job you know. It’s really a shame that you can’t spend more time in a city. We’ve only be here a day. We wanna stay for the week, but at least. Unfortunately we got places to be, things to do, shows to play. And getting to meet new people I suppose.

 (So have you made friends with any cool bands?)

TOM:  Yes, I mean we just make friends with anyone we play with really. You know, go for a party, have a drink with them.

SASHA: We hang out with Palma Violets a little bit. ( ye I saw the photo of you and Chilli taken by NME.) (laugh) And you know Jagwar Ma, from Sydney. Ye we met lots of people, lots of musicians to hang out together, or play with.

 5. What is the band that inspired you the most?

SASHA: Right now? (yes)

SASHA & TOM: AIR! Probably… (laugh)

SASHA: They’re really good.

TOM: That’s for the next record you know what I mean? We’ve been listening to lots of them.

 6. So its been a while since your debut album released. Have you guys been back to the studio?

TOM: Ye we’re recently based in New York. We’ve been doing lots of writing and recording to get ready for the next record.

(How is it sounding like?)

TOM: Sounding like a little bit more electronic than the previous record, and we’ve got Joey now he’s playing synth. He’s a bit of wizard on the keys (laugh)

SASHA: Ye I mean it’s not as like garage-rock anymore. It’s kind of more clever and.

TOM: It’s just more clever and more mature sort of music you know.

SAHSA: It’s quite ground sounding with lots of keyboard.

(Can you say a little bit more about it? like about the release?)

TOM: We’re not too sure about to be honest. I mean we’re still like just writing the record and.. We still need to find a label(laugh) But I mean hopefully this year to get out but I don’t  know.

SASHA: Hopefully about summer.

 TOM: Yeah.. September maybe, like the 1st single of the album. We’re not too sure.

 SASHA: We’ll have a track. I’d say not like a single, but a track to show to some people within the next, 2 month.

(Any new songs for tonight?)

TOM: I’d say it’s 50/50 really, with new material I mean. We’ve been played the last album for so long that we’re excited to play something new.

SASHA: And even the old songs sound new because..

TOM: Joey’s playing keys!

(How much have you done with the new album?)

SASHA: uhm?? A quarter?

TOM: Half maybe? It’s hard to say I mean we’ve written a quite few songs but until we write more we don’t know whats gonna go on next.

SASHA: We’ll take it as it counts. I mean there’s no rush. We wanna write the best record we can, so … (laugh).

 7. If youre organizing a festival which bands are gonna be on the line-up?

TOM: I’d get, My Bloody Valentine?

SASHA & JOEY: Nah, no.

TOM: Why?

JOEY: They’re done, you know? They’re really done.

SASHA: I like their new album, I like it, sounds really intense(laugh)

SASHA: I’d probably get Tame Impala in there.

TOM: Ye, definitely.

SASHA: Surely for vibes, Tame Impala.

JOEY: Connan Mockasin!

SASHA: YEAH Connan Mockasin.

 8. Where do you think you guys played the best gig ever?

SASHA: Our shows in New York have really good crowd. And some shows in Europe. We played really good festivals in Europe. Especially this one called?

SASHA&TOM: Midi Festival.

SASHA: It was amazing.

9. So this is your 1st show of 2014. What are your plans for this year?

SASHA: We’re going to SXSW!!

TOM: Ye, tomorrow.

SASHA: And… Back to New York to play. And then we gotta, leave the country to sort our visas out, to come back. I’m going to Australia with Joey. These guys are going back to London. And come back to America. I guess we’d probably get a single out then, do a tour. And then hopefully get the album done.

Phantogram – More of the Same Indie

By Katrina Yentch

 2/5

 At Phantogram’s formation in 2007, Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel created an electrorock fusion that was unique, memorable, and innovative in the indie rock world. It had a zinging edge to it and vocals that screamed power and angst, but in a melodic sense. The third time around, however, this has become rather sickening and outdated. The duo’s long presence in the scene has allowed them to continuously sell out shows, but it does not make up for the fact that Phantogram does not add anything new to the table.

“Voices” is a compilation of overall upbeat electronic pop rock combined with high-pitched vocals and ironically depressing track titles. The album opens with the single, “Nothing But Trouble.” Immediately picture the band opening with this to get the crowd going and excited. It’s a strong, happy note that sets a tone for an album that will be straight indie rock with added influences of chamber pop and electronica.

As the album begins to progress…oh wait, but it does not. The next three to four tracks begin to sound the exact same. Now, one can give credit that they are simply good songs. It’s no wonder Phantogram has managed to remain relevant in the music scene for so long because these tracks are intricately arranged. However, they seem to follow a similar formula for each one. With the above mentioned descriptions of high vocal notes and electronic buzz comes redundancy and inability to distinguish between songs in ways other than when Carter is singing and when Barthel is singing. “Black Out Days” and “Fall in Love” literally sound like minimal variations of “Nothing but Trouble,” and “Never Going Home” is vocally led by Carter. The track itself slows does a bit and the chorus is slightly more pleasant to listen to, but otherwise the tracks blend into one long and continuous one.

As soon as Sarah Barthel leads vocals again with “The Day You Died” it goes back to the same formula. It gets even more bothersome with “Bad Dreams,” which tries to capture the audiophile’s ear by including a catchy electronic drum line. Then the vocals come in particularly high and particularly gruesome.

This set of high vocal notes become too much, and the ironically depressing lyrics titles do too. “Celebrating Nothing” and “My Only Friend” are even more of the same sadness, and the duo tries to build intensity in the final track, but in the end it leaves no memorable impression whatsoever. The only track that does seem to mildly stand out is “Bill Murray,” which seems to encompass a melodic set of instrumentals, a mild “indie lullaby.” In regards to whether the song actually embodies the sentiments/acting talents of Murray…let’s just say they did it for the whimsicality of the title. Let’s hope it was a tribute?

Overall “Voices” is a set of droney yet well-produced electronic rock tracks that start to mesh into one another. This isn’t to say that the music itself is bad quality. Rather, the songs lack any sort of innovation or experimentation. The duo knows what they are good at and simply stick to it. However, they stick to one formula, and this one formula does not work for multiple songs.

Recommend if: You’re into The Naked and Famous (who came just a year after) and want to hear the original sound. 

Check out Phantogram’s new album, Voices at http://phantogrammusic.virb.com