Carnaval Eléctrico ft. Cold War Kids, Hanni El Khatib, Mergence, Stan Devereaux & The Funky Suns, Diners, and More @ Crescent Ballroom|3/8/13
It's awesome when everything goes right at a show: great lineup, great venue, and great concept. But, as the crowd at Friday night's sold-out Carnaval Eléctrico festival proved, sometimes it can be even greater when everything goes wrong. It rained cats and dogs, making the outdoor sets soggy, and creating a massive line -- a "one in/one out" situation -- to get back into the dry venue. Still, the pouring rain didn't stop the audience from dancing and cheering as Cold War Kids performed their trademark song, "Hang Me Out to Dry," the bass line booming as singer Nathan Willett sang "too, too, too many times" in his singular rasp.
Making my way into Crescent (after battling through downtown baseball traffic), I managed to catch the last couple songs of indie-pop darlings Diners. Drummer Tristan Jemsek and songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Tyler Broderick harmonized over chugging guitars and erudite leads from Broderick. "Good Friends," from the band's stellar EP, Throw Me a Ten, was a standout, though the band's newest material -- with lounge-pop melodies and sturdy Blue-and-Pinkerton-era Weezer muscle -- sounds like it could show up the band's debut.
On the outdoor stage, with a light-to-moderate drizzle coming down, Phoenix rockers Mergence plied their own brand of beefy rock, though it veers toward the heavier end of the rock dial. The band trotted out a confident version of The Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," which is a bold move. The crowd and band were undeniably into it, but I'm of the idea that covering the Fab Four should be left to Beatles cover bands; personally, I think the individual Beatles' solo LPs are rife for exploration. I'd love to hear Mergence try its hand at Paul McCartney's "Eat at Home" or George Harrison's "Wah Wah." Could you imagine a Mergence cover of "Cold Turkey?"
On the inside stage, Phoenix soul/R&B royalty Stan Devereaux & The Funky Suns took the stage, opening with a crack take on Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up," which blended into a seven- or eight-minute meditation on Dyke and The Blazers "Funky Broadway." Devereaux took a minute to ease into his falsetto, but once he did, it was there. The Funky Suns are the hardest-working backing band in town, bringing organ flurries, psychedelic lead guitar, and a rock-solid rhythm section. "It ain't raining in here," Devereaux joked. "Remember where you are; you're at the Crescent Ballroom. If you get too fucked up, I'll help you call a cab."
Sauntering onstage to the strands of Wendy Rene's smoky classic "After Laughter Comes Tears," Los Angeles-based hellion Hanni El Khatib tore into new material, showing off songs from his upcoming Dan Auerbach-produced record, Family. The new songs -- brisk, but indebted to Khatib's soul, blues, and R&B influences -- sounded great. "Thanks for sticking with it," the stylish singer said to the crowd, now reaching soaking, soggy levels. When he ripped into "Loved Ones," from his 2011 shredder, Will the Guns Come Out, it was awesome. The rabid garage rock cut -- positioned somewhere between a Bo Diddley stomp and a lost Troggs B-side -- was a highlight of the night.
Cold War Kids took the rain in stride, as did their audience. The drenched crowd cheered for old songs like "Audience of One" and "Hang Me Out to Dry," but seemed to connect as much with new material, like the band's triumphant new single, "Miracle Mile." The band stuck to the rock 'n' roll tone of its earlier albums, not venturing into the synthy/dancey sounds explored on Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, scheduled for release on Tuesday, April 4.
It worked for them. Cold War Kids might not have the indie press in their pocket (it's never fun when Pitchfork likens you to Train), but their influence on modern indie rock is undeniable, and their connection with their fans is a strong one. Not many bands can get fans to hang out in the cold, pouring rain, but CWK did, and they rewarded the loyal with an energetic, loose-limbed performance. A band like Cold War Kids sounds pretty good when everything is working at a show, but just like the band's records, the best moments come when it all feels like it could fall apart at any moment.
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