May 6, 2011
In an April interview with the Wall Street Journal online, Jefferson Airplane singer and counter- culture legend Grace Slick mentioned that her favorite new female singer was Emily Armstrong of Los Angeles band Dead Sara. After seeing this quartet of greenhornes play the Slidebar on Fullerton, it's apparent that old age hasn't had the deleterious impact on Slick's radar for talent.
Playing a brief set in the back room, Armstrong and company did their best to shred the eardrums of every person in the room. The ringing in my head holes as I write this tells me how close they came.
Reflecting a trend in modern hardcore music such as found on in the catalogue of Fearless Records, Dead Sara hybridizes and alchemizes sounds that one would never have thought synergistic ten years ago. This is perhaps why their sound seems to appeal to a young audience. In their case, it's a classic rock/screamo mix. Armstrong's raspy screech stands juxtaposed against the beefy riffage of guitarist Siouxsie Medley. The final product is, in a word, chill-inducing.
Armstrong's talents on vox go beyond and are most obviously rendered in her incredible range. The raven haired rocker with half a shaved head vascillates between the impassioned brassiness of Melissa Etheridge to the shrill scream of a terydactyl and finally the high pitched coo of a wounded angel. Though there are moments on songs that are angular, the overall movement of the songs is supported by smooth tribal grooves, wah wah guitars and squalls of distortion and feedback. The coup de grat came in the evening's final song "Weatherman."
WIth an opening guitar hook reminiscent of 1990s classic rock pastiche, the band showed an unwavering cohesion as they meandered through dynamic peaks and valleys ending with a haunting break which built to an earth shattering voice shredding crescendo.
On top of a dynamic voice, Armstrong has a compelling stage presence and is given to jerky convulsions which seem to correspond to the music resonating in the space of her bones. Occasionally her arm would windmill unexpectedly and strike toward the drum kit behind her, at other times she defiantly extende a middle finger. The intensity was urgent but never felt forced, rather authentic--the kind of stage craft Hayley William's might kill for (were she not religious). According to the band's Facebook page they'll be releasing an album late spring. Tick tock.
The Crowd: Very young looking. It was a surprising to see so many of them with booze in their hands.
Overheard: Nothing. My ears were shot after this one. Not a knock on Armstrong's voice, but the US Army may want to recruit her for a Psy Ops program.
Random Notebook Dump: Having been drinking in the Downtown Fullerton area for over a decade it's remarkable to see what a zoo this three-block stretch of Harbor Blvd. has become.