Although the air conditioning was pumping inside Farewell Coffee & Booze, it didn’t feel appreciably cooler than outside. Weighing the options, I decided to pregame in the club’s rocky courtyard in the fresh, if unfortunately calm, air. There I visited with friends and battled mosquitos in equal measure. Suzanne described the venue’s plantings to me. Angela warned us of poisonous weeds. Heat, mosquitos, and toxic flora. It’s going to be a long summer at Farewell. Dress appropriately and drink plenty of water.
I walked inside a bit after 9:00, summoned by the sound of a wounded electric guitar. The two members of New Obsessions were on stage for (what I’d learn was) a quick soundcheck. When the noise hurt just right, frontman Jorge Arana set down his guitar and said the band needed five minutes. I may have sighed audibly. When Arana did return, he wore a ruffed collar and Pierrot (the clown) makeup. His brother, Luis Arana formerly of Beautiful Bodies, wore the beaked mask now synonymous with plague doctors. Suzanne suggested he might just be going to an Eyes Wide Shut party immediately after playing. Either way, the costuming was appreciated, and certainly worth the five-minute delay.
New Obsessions is a striking post-punk band that, like its older sibling The Jorge Arana Trio, does nothing halfway. It’s chaotic with a distorted skittering guitar that never sounds like a guitar, a bass that never sounds like a bass, and a hissing drum machine that reeks of the 1980s. Backing tracks provide not only percussion, but keyboards, and plenty of unidentifiable noise. Jorge Arana’s vocals are often lost in the mix, but when they do pierce the veil, they’re high and ghostly. It’s a sin they keep him tethered to a microphone stand, because just to his right Luis Arana is a whirlwind of motion. When not spinning about on the stage, he’s off into the audience twisting and turning, holding his bass aloft, making the most of the freedoms afforded by his wireless rig. The dancing audience (largely a trio of ladies who came prepared to dance and live their best lives) stumbled to and fro to avoid him. But this was Farewell, and audience members know to always be on alert lest they be wiped out by a windmilling hardcore kick or a bass-wielding plague doctor. Back on stage, the band’s fog machines rolled out storm clouds, and its many strobe lights provided the lightning. To complete the metaphor, Luis Arana was certainly the thunder. Jorge Arana the rain stinging your face. Although a superlative live experience, New Obsessions continues to be relegated to “side project” status alongside its older brother band, but with first single, “Lies,” out soon, that might just change.
Between acts the audience (now swollen to 40 fans) rushed for the courtyard in hopes of finding cooler climes now that the sun had set. I stayed indoors, betting it all on the air conditioning, the cold water provided by the club, and the relative comfort of a sagging couch. From there I watched as New Obsessions’ gear was carted away, and the large amps of Lesser Care rolled in. I guess shoegaze is always best when you can feel it. Besides, I had earplugs.
A little after 10pm the three members of El Paso’s Lesser Care began. To my pleasure, they weren’t impossibly loud. In fact, the set began quietly and slowly with pastoral guitar washes and bright, picked melodies from Andres Chavez. Chavez’s vocals were rounded and full, but icy, recalling a host of new wave and post-punk bands before. In these quiet moments, where shoegaze flirted with dream pop, bassist Angel Yglecias and drummer Zane Pacillas merely supported the gossamer tunes. Later the band would grow its sound, Chavez would summon anguished screams, and Yglecias would move from tasteful accompaniment to acrobatic moments of double bass aggression.
Between the extremes the band straddled genres. There was always an insistent snare hit, a clumsy guitar riff, or a gruff vocal that staved off bliss. Always a beautiful twinkling melody, or a wash of pre-recorded synth that held the animal at bay. Chavez was those two wolves. He was a shy frontman, offering no banter other than noting how hot and sweaty the club was (quite an indictment coming from an El Pasoan) and then ultimately counting down the number of songs remaining in the set. There was a mention of merch but Chavez, ever the salesman, suggested that the crowd could buy something, “or not, whatever.” I hope they did.
As the band graduated from shoegaze to screamo for its final numbers, the audience adjusted accordingly – our dancing girls thrashed and stumbled quicker, the bobbing heads in the audience transformed into head bangers, and the four photographers that had circled the band all night moved in to get the perfect shot of Chavez’s roiling intensity. While the evening didn’t play out quite so linearly, the storyline holds, and the journey provided by Lesser Care was a thrill.
While a large portion of the audience stuck around for non-musical revelry, I was a tired, sweaty mess. After downing the remnants of my water bottle, I packed my camera gear, said only the most cursory goodbyes, then slipped out the door into the hot night knowing that I’d be back soon. It’s going to be a long summer at Farewell.