Last Night: Louis XIV, Hot Hot Heat, and Editors at Culture Room


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Louis XIV, Hot Hot Heat, and Editors

Culture Room, Ft. Lauderdale

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Better Than: Seeing all three bands together at an even smaller venue

The Review:

Last night’s show at the Culture Room marked the first stop of a tour by rising indie-ish stars Louis XIV, Hot Hot Heat, and Editors. And for a Tuesday night, the venue was obscenely packed. So much so that trying to find a comfortable vantage point in the main room, in the thick of the ferocious all-ages crowd, was nearly impossibly. Many retreated to watch the show on the closed-circuit projection screen on the outside patio, mercifully close to that bar under a large plaster-cast Olmec head. Luckily the bands made up for the physical discomfort with elevated showmanship and song selections that sated their expectant fans.

None of the acts were strangers to South Florida, and especially Culture Room, despite Louis XIV frontman Jason Hill’s assertion that the band was “so glad to be in Florida for the first time.” Yeah right – I saw the band play at the very same club in late summer of ’05, just before MTV VMA time. Similarly, Hot Hot Heat headlined a show at the venue just this past October. (Editors, meanwhile, last visited when they played Miami’s Studio A in the spring of 2006). With each band hovering around the same level of potentially-mainstream-crashing success (although with Hot Hot Heat the clear forerunners), there was no clear choice for “opening” act. Thus Louis XIV went on first, and the band’s performance was the pleasant surprise of the evening.

The San Diego-based quartet has gotten a lot of critical flak for its obvious adoration of Seventies glam rock, especially that in the vein of the great T. Rex. Okay, their cribbing is often obvious. Fine. But, as a rabid T. Rex fan myself, I say, good on them. Marc Bolan is long gone, and while nobody can hold a candle to the man, if someone else wants to try to take the reins of that mystical, stomping theatricality, well, they are more than welcome to try.

Impressive was the group’s beefed-up live sound, augmented since their last local appearance with two violins and a way more rockin’ organ. The ensemble was glove-tight, with a coordinated, pulsing light show to match. Even the venue’s sound, which can typically turn muddy, impressed during the band’s set. Beyond the huskier instrumentation, both Hill and guitarist Brian Karcsig sported bushy facial hair. Perhaps it was a style signifier that they’re now mining stockier historical references, beyond fey glam artifice. The new, reinforced swagger was apparent in the band’s rousing final song, “The Distances from Me To You” (off its forthcoming album Slick Dogs and Ponies), with its not-so-modest chanted chorus of "Two, four, six, eight/Who do you appreciate?/Me! Me! Me! Me! Me!" A couple years ago, it may have been trendy to slag off this band, but its longevity and super-satisfying live show should quiet much of the naysaying.

Next up was Hot Hot Heat. It was a bit strange to see them as a penultimate act, what with their heavy play on retail soundtracks and TV channels like Fuse, but then again, they did just headline the place. Still, with the forward-surging crush of bodies at the beginning of their set, it was evident that much of the crowd, especially its youngest segment, was here specifically for them.

Whereas the band’s early material possessed a delightfully shrill, New Wavey feel of almost-chaos, over time its sound has become more polished, perhaps “mature.” However, live, it comes dangerously close to sounding as monochromatic and stylized as the band members’ black-and-white getups. And at the same time, their set was hampered by a muffled engineering mix, which seemed strange in light of Louis XIV’s relative crispness. This was only amplified by frontman Steve Bays’ insistence on filtering many of his vocals through an echoing, distorted effect.

I don’t mean to piss on this band – honestly, I think they are bright, fun, great at what they do. They are especially blessed with good looks and style, and possess an indefatigable onstage energy that stays at level 10 throughout their set. Clearly, Hot Hot Heat values its audience. But something about the actual music issued forth seemed lackluster. Now-vintage favorites like “Bandages” and “No, Not Now,” from the band’s 2003 debut Make Up The Breakdown, were almost unrecognizable at first with their new arrangements and remarkably subdued keyboard parts.

Finally came Editors, the Birmingham, England-based purveyors of intellectual, clove-smoke-sodden gloom. The crowd, somewhat mercifully, thinned out a bit after Hot Hot Heat’s set, but still remained packed tight and toasty.

(Side note: Why is it that every show at Culture Room, regardless of the bands playing, attracts little clots of dudes in baseball caps, and, often cargo shorts? I’m totally confounded by the presence of lots of hair gel and anything that can be described as “biceps” in the audience for a band of Brits who look like disaffected grad students – or the kinds of guys said biceps-bearers would have beat up in high school. In fact, one gentleman insisted on hoisting his very tan girlfriend atop his shoulders for the latter third of the band’s set, amid the pumping fists and whoops of his beer-swilling bros. Totally unnecessary in a venue that is wide, shallow, and must hold fewer than 500 people).

The band’s sophomore album, An End Has A Start, was noticeably more lushly produced, resulting in a weird, distant quality, unlike the heart-tugging immediacy of its 2005 debut The Back Room. But live, the songs all hearkened back to the original underlying thread of creeping dread and regret. While creating more robust, dare I say pop-oriented compositions, Editors clearly owe a debt to Joy Division. The cold, post-punky aesthetic is evidence in everything from the band’s minimalist T-shirt designs to frontman Tom Smith’s herky-jerky moves. His voice has a deep timbre creepily close to that of Joy Division’s late frontman Ian Curtis, and his mannerisms are similarly epileptic. Strikingly, at certain high emotional points, Smith seemed to hug himself with crossed arms, twitch, and then pat himself on the back, all behind the body of his dangling guitar. Similarly, when he took his place for a few songs at a shiny, black upright piano at stage right, he seemed alternately contorted and dangling from an invisible string.

It was hypnotic, even as the band’s set charged mostly through the [relatively] upbeat material of An End Has a Start. Still, for original enthusiasts, the band threw a few bones from the debut record. “Blood” and “Munich” were deliciously tense wind-ups, and a cathartic rendition of “Fingers in the Factories” closed out their set.

Oh, and there was a bit of schadenfreude for frat-haters. Near the end of the set, a muscle-bound fellow in a baseball cap mounted a downstage speaker and insisted upon doing a sarcastic, Van Wilder-style dance, obscuring the band. Seemingly out of nowhere, an onstage security guard took a running start and pushed him off (he landed safely on his feet), to loud whoops from the disaffected in the crowd. You know you’re acting like a jerk if you get manhandled by a security guard and everyone else cheers. Arielle Castillo

Personal Bias: I’ve seen each of these bands play already at least once, and favor both Hot Hot Heat’s and Editors’ first albums.

Random Detail: In all my years of living both in New York and Miami and seeing Louis XIV play shows or just hang out in bars, I have yet to see Hill without a new, nubile catch on his arm. Last night was no exception.

By the way: Louis XIV’s sophomore album, Slick Dogs and Ponies, is due out January 29 on Atlantic.

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