May 20, 2011
I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the folks who packed into The Icehouse last night to watch and listen to Tempe-based What Laura Says don't own any Canned Heat or Allman Brothers Band LPs. "Boogie Rock" just isn't a genre name that gets tossed out a lot by the hip set, existing more exclusively as the domain of 45 + record geeks and "deep cut" spinning classic rock DJs.
But when you boil it down, that's exactly the kind of rock & roll What Laura Says play. Certainly the band augments their sound with plenty of concessions to less obvious influences: the funky strut of The Meters, swirling Beach Boys-indebted psychedelia, dubby grooves, and touches of post rock. Yet at its core, and perhaps at its best, the band gets down like something your weird but cool uncle might jam in his Astro Van.
The Laura guys are no strangers to Valley stages, and while you can't fault their commitment to pounding the pavement and taking to the Tempe bar scene nearly every weekend, the historic confines of the Icehouse made for a remarkable change of scenery.
Sharing the bill with Monster Couch, Brian Lopez of Mostly Bears, Mergence, Wizards of Time, Wooden Indian, and Black Carl, the show benefited from the cavernous appeal of the venue, both in sound and in sight.
It felt like a mini-festival, complete with "Sponsored by Red Stripe" banners, as the bands alternated between the open-air front room (where the acoustics were seriously fantastic) and the main room.
Due to a mix up at the pressing plant, the band didn't have actual copies of their new record, Talk, on hand for the -ahem- record release party, but the band's set did as much to keep the mood celebratory as the pre-orders available at the merch table.
The band played songs from the forthcoming record --due May 24 on iTunes, with the vinyl slated to be ready in early June-- as well as tunes from their albums, 2007's Thinks and Feels and 2010's Bloom Cheek. The new tracks rested comfortably in the band's catalog, though one number, with its aggressive slide guitar and cocky beat struck me as the most Led Zeppelin thing the band has yet done. The crowd seemed to dig it, but then again, who doesn't love an opportunity to "get the led out" --I imagine drummer Greg Muller certainly did.
The band's harmonies sold songs like "Wish I Could Fly," while "Roll Some Coin" was anchored by their instrumental chops. Obnoxiously funky, it's the closest the band comes to full on jam band territory, but it remains concise, even mathematical with bassist Mitch Freedom working it under intricate percussion, riffing and clapping.
Not surprisingly, the band saved the best stuff for the encore, with guitarist/vocalist James Mulhern asking if the crowd "Would you like a tiny bit more in your ear-hole?"
"Line and Colours" is the band's best song, a rolling, pastoral lull that slowly builds toward the heaviest riff the band has put to tape, with Mulhern cranking up the overdrive. The band ended the set in full on raving preacher mode, with singer/guitarist Danny Godbold gyrating and testifying. It was over the top, sure, maybe even a little silly, but the crowd went wild for it.
Chock up the enthusiasm to the band's sense of whimsy.
Because, when you're a boogie rock band in 2011, it's good to have a sense of humor, and, y'know, some killer riffs.
Last Night: What Laura Says at the Icehouse
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The Crowd: Hippiesters (get it?)
Overheard in the Crowd: "So good!" Shouted by local painter Deon Doughty, who was working on a portrait of Godbold during the bands set.
Personal Bias: I was recently looking at 2008: The Year in Band Names, compiled by the Onion A.V. Club, while working on something about Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.. They note What Laura Says' previously much longer name: What Laura Says, Thinks, and Feels, noting: Apparently, she says, thinks, and feels each dude in the band should be a serious hair-farmer. Not much personal bias I guess, but I couldn't stop chuckling about it to myself.
Random Notebook Dump: "I wonder if anyone ever remembers that Kings of Leon used to sort of sound like this?"