Aug. 17, 2011
I'm a fan of lushly layered, elaborately-arranged songs. Fledgling Los Angeles duo Dead Ships doesn't do those types of arrangements. But I'm a fan of theirs anyway.
Though it may seem like being in a band comprised only of a guitarist and drummer would be really easy, something tells me it isn't. Without a big instumental arsenal to fall back on, songwriting duos have to have something special going for them if they want to compel an audience. Dead Ships' Slidebar appearance proved they have something special in the arsenal and will one day do a bang up job of dazzling crowds. Last night just wasn't that night.
Their hour-long set of garage-smoked indie jams was played to a sparse audience of about 15 people. The band was fighting against a black hole of lackluster room energy, but they soldiered on admirably, playing such jams off their self-titled EP as "Canyon" and "Loveless Come Lately."
The latter in particular saw the band doing what they do best--laying down a simple arrangement covered by singer Devlin McCluskey's gliding, bittersweet howl. At times it reminded me of Local Native's singer Taylor Rice, but without the polish, as evidenced when it would crack with an unexpected squeakiness reminiscent of Kings of Leon's Caleb Followill.
McCluskey would stomp and strum rigidly occasionally roboting around the stage like ACDC guitarist Angus Young, then return to the mic and fill the room with the sound of his booming voice.
Meanwhile drummer Chris Spindelilus would pound out rapturous percussive thunder in the form of straight forward beats, the simplicity of which were belied by his occasionally nimble snare work.
The stripped arrangements allowed for a clean mix of sounds and offered the audience a chance to hear the things that matter in a performance: the voice, the quality of the guitar's tone, compelling beats. The sounds were naked and out there for people to enjoy leaving the musicians with no walls of sound to hide behind.
While most of the numbers saw McCluskey's guitar rocking a little peach fuzz, the song "The Maze" witnessed him cranking the gain and launching into a bluesy barn burner with Spindelilus hammering out a rudimentary four on the floor rhythm. Mid-song, McCluskey slid his hand violently up and down the neck emitting a high pitched banshee like scream from his Stratocaster. It was visceral and primal.
The set ended with perhaps their catchiest number, "Canyon." As they played, people started filing in to the Slide Bar's back room from the bar area outside. With the crowd slowly swelling, the band was prompted to repeat a few more songs. "The Maze" was requested again. The band obliged.
The Crowd: Sparse. Mostly male. Though the "Canyon" attracted the most female attention from the bar area.
Overheard: "Sounds great, man." someone in the crowd offered between songs. It was weird because he said it really quietly but it was perfectly audible throughout the room.
Random Notebook Dump: I was sitting on a bus bench with my camera before the show near the spot where homeless man Kelly Thomas was beaten by Fullerton PD. A large crowd of people had gathered around his makeshift memorial. I swear a guy clad in plain clothes walked over by me and started talking into his hand as if he had a concealed radio. Is Fullerton PD keeping an eye on things from the shadows? Who's to say? I've been told I'm paranoid.