In the before time, when Riot Room was The Hurricane, rock fans used to complain about the DJs and their dance parties that took over the club after hours. Those young ideologues hated that they couldn't prolong their revelry as the headlining act played on without end. Even then, but especially now, I didn't understand this beef. A show that ends by 11pm is a marvelous thing, and a venue doubling its revenue so that it might weather those rock shows where only twelve people support a touring up-and-comer seems ideal. Today I hear this complaint less. Maybe I just know fewer ideologues, or maybe they've all gotten as old as I always was.
Although the venue advertised a two-band bill, it was a third that opened the show at 8:15. TV Party is the new (I'm told) project from Todd Wisenbaker. This means the opening slot was given to the husband of the headliner. There's something delightful about that which makes me appreciate Wisenbaker and spouse Katy Goodman all that much more. Pushing gender politics aside, TV Party is built on the clean, quick-picking, lyrical guitar work of Wisenbacker. Constant bright leads dominated the instrumentals, but when toned down to allow room for lyrics, TV Party displayed Les Paul filigree and more Marshall Crenshaw-esque rock & roll. Or probably closer to the truth, these songs simply reflect the time that Wisenbaker has spent as Ryan Adam's side man. Wisenbaker was a cheery showman, whose low key and conversational banter seemed entirely appropriate for the small Friday night crowd. Neither member of Wisenbaker's backing band (bassist Eric Hehr and drummer Brenden McCusker) were given microphones, and were not part of the repartee. In fact, that duo's simple runs and steady beats were generally invisible, allowing Wisenbaker's guitar to (rightly) dominate the enjoyable half-hour set.
Between acts the stage set up didn't change. The same equipment, and many of the same players, would return for each set. This was, simply put, heaven. Not only were there no long delays between acts, or monotonous sound checks, but it also meant the small club was not clogged with the drum kits, amplifiers, and other accoutrements of bands elsewhere on the bill. It reminded me of my halcyon days in the DIY hardcore scene where bands would share the same equipment in an effort to fit seven bands in a three-hour VFW Hall rental. Different drivers, but the same time savings.
It was 9pm when Greta Morgan of Springtime Carnivore joined her band on the stage. Seeing her in neat red dress and perfectly coiffed hair, I was quickly reminded me that I hadn't shaved in a week, and that I was wearing the same jeans and black hoodie for the fourth day in a row. Suddenly I was underdressed and wanted to pause the show to go clean up. Thankfully Morgan was surrounded by a trio of men who, although they didn't absolve me of my sloth, at least didn't shame me. The saving gentlemen were returning drummer Brenden McCusker, Eric Hehr (formerly on bass though now on keyboards), and newcomer Adam Wayne on bass. Together these players helped realize Springtime Carnivore's sunny pop by providing a bubbling disco rhythm for the main attraction of Morgan's voice. Synthesized keyboards blended adroitly with the unmistakably breezy Los Angeles pop that, somehow, retained a slight country root. Jenny Lewis is a frequently touchstone, and that seems fair enough. Although Morgan's banter was limited, in several short exchanges she quickly revealed herself to be an exceptionally gregarious frontwoman of impossible authenticity. I want to be her friend.
The majority of the band's set centered around songs from the just released Midnight Room (Autumn Tone Records) with its driving "Raised by Wolves" serving as the standout of the night. Near the end of the band's set, Morgan invited Katy Goodman on stage for a trio of songs including winsome covers of "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)" and "Bastards of Young" both from the duo's new album of covers titled Take It, It's Yours. Audience favorite "Name on a Matchbook" from 2014's self-titled album closed the band's 30-minute set, but like a cat chasing a laser point, I spent the last track obsessively trying to locate the disembodied source of that track's whistled hook. Later I read those whistles are always pre-recorded as Morgan contends only Andrew Bird is capable of such feats live. It's okay Greta, we can still hang out. Unless, of course, Andrew Bird and I are already doing something.
At 9:45 La Sera frontwoman Katy Goodman stood behind a silent microphone, hand shielding her eyes from the bright stage lights, scanning the club for the sound guy. The band wasn't scheduled to go on until 10:00, but without the need for a set change, the band was ready to go. As someone who lives the "if you're not early, you're late" mantra, I wholly endorse a prepunctual headliner.
The trio of La Sera is composed of vocalist/bassist Katy Goodman, husband Todd Wisenbaker on guitar and vocals, and drummer Brendan McCusker — all familiar faces from earlier in the night, most playing similar roles as well. La Sera has been prolific as of late, releasing its fourth album, Music to Listen to Music to, this past spring, and more recently a digital-only five-song EP titled Queen. The significance of the single is worth exploring. La Sera began as Goodman solo project. It was light affair with retro, Phil Spector-inspired production, not far from the She & Him albums. As time progressed Goodman found a stronger voice, and with Wisenbaker she found her sound. For the new EP, the band has re-recorded several songs from the most recent album, transforming them from the original Ryan Adams-produced album cuts, to the rollicking live versions that the songs became when played on stage. So much rock, in fact, that the EP also includes a cover of pinnacle classic rock track "Whole Lotta Love." With all this in mind, I wondered which version of La Sera we might see on this tour.
To be honest I had hoped for fey tracks like 2012's "Real Boy" — a track that casts Goodman as the Mary Ford to Wisenbacker's Les Paul, but by the third song, when the band thundered its way through "Shadow of Your Love" (one of those revisited tracks I mentioned earlier), it was obvious that the 30-member audience would get the La Sera that came to rock — the La Sera informed by Goodman's full voice and an impossible amount of guitar gymnastics aimed at securing Wisenbacker's place next to Marissa Pateroster, J. Mascis, and Doug Martsch in the indie rock shredder hall of fame. So is the band a rock band now? Partially. But Goodman's songs still recall The Smiths more than AC/DC — it's in her bass lines, and in the way she sets then elongates her vocal lines. This sensibility was obvious even in the reworking of "I Need an Angel" (now titled "I Really Need an Angel"), where despite the newfound urgency and clamor, it's still impossible not to hear Andy Rourke's hand.
Although Goodman carried the vocal duties throughout the night, Wisenbacker contributed verses throughout. The shared vocal responsibilities in "One True Love" near the end of the set demonstrated yet one more strength gained from the union.
The trio's (or honestly the duo's) stage presence was similarly dichotomous with banter that was relaxed and as conversational as possible when one person is standing on an amplified stage conversing to another standing below obscured by stage lights. I wondered at times if this was just a band playing songs for newfound friends, or if the Riot Room faithful would get a performance. Of course when Goodman danced off the stage into the audience, or Wisenbacker played a solo behind his head, or McCusker took a monster solo, it was obvious the answer was both — and in just the right proportions.
La Sera closed its set with "Hour of the Dawn" from the 2014 album of the same name. It was a raucous, pounding, spectacular finale that burst the seams of that song's original indie pop inception. The trio then made a deserved, but half-hearted, move to exit the stage before acquiescing to the calls for an encore, and returning with "Break My Heart" from 2012's Sees the Light. This pop song didn't get the new rock treatment, instead the entirety of the audience joined Goodman to sing for the chorus, unifying band and audience in much the same way that that pop and rock, that male and female vocals, that intimacy and showmanship, had each been melded throughout the night.
As the lights rose I gathered my gear, thanked the bands, and slipped out the side door. As I put on my helmet a woman shouted out "cute scooter," catching my attention and turning my head. I thanked her as she walked by in wobbly heels and in a scandalously tight dress joining a short line of similarly dressed patrons heading into the Riot Room to dance. I smiled, knowing I'd be home in time to catch the end of the Daily Show, and the venue would be selling enough Patron to keep its doors open for La Sera's next visit.