Last night, I was happy my way to make my over to Pianos for an Oh My Rockness sponsored show. OMR is probably my favorite website; I use it at least once a day and have a very high regard for their taste. I was also excited to see that Pianos had replaced their outdated backdrop with something new (and much better to take pictures in front of). All in all, it was shaping up to be a great night.
It turned out to be the Tale of Two Bands. One I wanted to hate, and one I wanted to like. Neither turned out how I expected, so much of it having to do with band image. I’ll start with the latter. Even though I hadn’t seen XYZ Affair live until last night, I felt like I had a long history with the band. I tried to book them as an opener my senior year at Olde Club, but it didn’t work out. I’ve been in several concert situations where I either got there too late to see them or had to leave too early. They played at Swarthmore this year, so many of my friends saw them and talked to me about it, giving both good and bad reviews. One of my friends even said, “They’re at best vaguely talented pretty boys.” By this point, I was pretty interested to see what they were actually like.
To an extent, my friend was right. I don’t really know how to properly describe the show last night. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t really like it either. All of the musicians in the band are incredibly talented, and they have great stage presence, but it didn’t all add up for me. The best way I can describe it was that instead of playing a show, it seemed like they were playing an elaborate game of guitar hero. They were all so good at their instruments, the lead guitarist fingering solos with such effortless adeptness, that I somehow expected more out of the songs. Instead, it just seemed like they were play-acting through a well practiced routine. I also really disliked the lead’s dancing. I know it’s a minor thing, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I think that this band will actually be very successful if they keep at it because of their wide appeal, but their live show is not for me.
If I tried hard to like XYZ Affair and failed, the opposite was true of Action Painters. From the moment they took the stage, I wanted to hate them. Their second guitarist was wearing a really, really bad hat. I hate it when people in bands wear hats. I know that’s ridiculous, but one bad hat can ruin a whole band for me (sorry to the guitarist wearing the hat if you end up reading this, you’re very talented, I just question your hat fashion sense). The lead singer looked irritating, too, very typically Los Angeles with tight black jeans and a blazer. The keyboardist looked nothing like an indie rocker ought to. Do I sound like Holden Caulfield here? For some reason, the visual cues this band was giving off made me want to dislike them.
But I couldn’t. I enjoyed their set. They have some very solid standard indie rock tunes. They’re at their best when everyone in the band is jamming on a theme, crescendoing into one of those familiar but still exciting swells. They adeptly covered of one of my favorite songs of all time, “See No Evil” by Television. One thing I will say, and I hate to make this suggestion because she seemed like a great bandmate, but I’d like to hear the band without the keyboards. The sound was stuck between one of those synthy rock bands, like the Killers, and a more standard four piece. I’d like to hear Action Painters without the layer of synth and instead stripped down to just two guitars, bass, and drums. It seems like they might tend toward a sound more like The Soft Pack or Oxford Collapse, and I think that sound would suit their strengths well. Maybe they could keep the keyboards, but use a more typical piano sound. Either way, Action Painters tentatively won me over by the end of their set, and I’d at least go check them out again.