I'm still having trouble stringing the facts together so maybe you can help. The members of the opening band were not old enough to be in the bar. The band was playing only its second show outside of its hometown of Seattle (-ish). The band has released two EPs and a full-length album. And the band was on a tour opening for stalwarts Beach Slang and Dave Hause. What? While I'm waiting for you to explain how this all fits together, let's get to the show.
At 8 o'clock sharp Hannah Racecar took the stage. The band is fronted by the vocals and guitar of Adam Bredlau, supported by the rhythm section of bassist Austin Milner and drummer Ian Call, and augmented by touring guitarist Mikey Davis. Together the foursome revisited the fertile soil of the late '90s and early '00s when giants like Jets to Brazil, Built to Split, and even Modest Mouse blended gutsy punk and heady indie to perfection. Charmed, the Riot Room audience soon filled the area in front of the stage, nodding along to the soaring guitar leads and watching as Bredlau pushed his vocals to the daring brink of failure. The band held the audience's attention throughout the 25-minute set, and even inspired one very effusive fan to slur her appreciation to a startled Bredlau as he tried to pack his gear. Welcome to touring, Hannah Racecar.
Punk rocker turned punk rock troubadour Dave Hause followed shortly afterwards. Touring with a four-piece backing band, and billed as "Dave Hause and the Mermaid," one might have expected some rock posturing and showmanship, but instead Hause delivered the same intimate and anchored performance that has defined this stage of his career. Whether playing acoustic or electric, Hause's songs were homey and genuine. He was talkative and genial during breaks, addressing the audience as friends, dipping into local culture without pandering, and explaining the origin of songs. With keyboardist Kayleigh Goldsworthy in the band, roots rock elements were intensified, peaking during a cover of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down." That track was followed by the scathing "Dirty Fucker," hate-dedicated to Donald Trump. The ribald refrain of "It's always, always some dirty fucker," spat vocals, and nasty lead guitar from Tim Hause (Dave's brother) provided all the cathartic vitriol the audience could handle.
Headlining the night was Philadelphia's Beach Slang. On this tour, James Alex, the only constant member, was joined by lead guitarist Aurore Ounjian, drummer Cully Symington, and frequent collaborator bassist Ed McNulty. But these are facts I learned the next day; during the show, the band was enveloped in a thick fog, and dramatically backlit, ensuring no one could discern the particulars of the stage show, much less the players' identities. While the band's tour manager assured me that this was entirely the club's decision, the anonymity seemed to go hand-in-hand with the scripted beginnings of the band's set, where the quartet ran through straight through a number of rehearsed songs, with little interaction with the audience. While the fog never lifted, Alex did finally warm to the audience. Requests were taken, Replacements covers (and Cure covers and Pixies covers) were performed, and a near-constant dialog with the audience was opened. It was at this point that Alex spotted several homemade Beach Slang shirts in the audience, causing the frontman to gush his approval in line with his effusive reputation. Midway through the set the backing band was dismissed, shifting Alex into "Quiet Slang" mode. He got misty during a song written for a suicidal friend, and everyone got choked up during a ragged cover of Petty's "Even the Losers." Soon after the band returned, Alex announced that the encore had begun (predicated by the musicians hiding behind their instruments for a moment), whereupon more requests were made, rock and roll was preached, and connections between band and audience were deepened.
James Alex is known for wearing his heart upon his sleeve — something he even joked about during the set. As a jaded old man, it's hard for me to take such earnest performers at face value, but all signs indicated that Alex is nothing if not sincere. Dave Hause is similarly authentic (albeit not so fulsome). For audiences, seeing the two performers giving everything and giving it so freely was both affirming and restorative. For Hannah Racecar, a chance to learn that lesson on its first tour is an amazing opportunity. And it will add one more piece to the puzzle of that curious young band.