Costa Mesa is a long way from the rustic, oven climate of Gram Rabbit
's native Joshua Tree. However, marinating in a foggy haze of surging guitar, industrial disco rhythms and laser light, their show last night at Detroit Bar seemed like just another party in the desert for this disco-indebted band of psychedelic rockers. Their latest album, Miracles & Metaphors
, has gotten plenty of love (and spins) from KCRW 89.9-FM and devoted GR followers (otherwise known as the Royal Order of Rabbits). Last night was the band's first opportunity to unpack the new tunes for an OC audience.
GR's music has always sounded like a carefully constructed amalgam of hard, chest vibrating beats and fuzzy, rock/country twang. Their sound can be cold as ice or warm as the morning sun. Opening their set with the harsh, robotic beats of "I Wear the Ears," platinum blond front woman Jessica von Rabbit started had pretty icy stage presence. Staring wide-eyed at the audience, most of her enthusiasm filtered through her pupils, which dialed back and forth like a smiling Cheshire Cat kitchen clock. Rocking her hips mechanically in a beige secretary outfit from the '50s, von Rabbit was going through the motions alongside GR's other multi-instrumentalist co-founder, Todd Rutherford, and guitarist Ethan Allen and drummer Hayden Scott.
Though the crowd responded almost immediately to Rutherford's timely bass playing and von Rabbit's high pitched vibrato, GR took a while to return the enthusiasm. Funny, you'd think a band that produces plenty of seductive dance tunes would bust out moves more on stage.
Fortunately, when Hyden triggered the opening laptop beat of "Off With Your Head," the infectious '80s synth zaps and calypso plunking helped von Rabbit and company find their groove. Individually, each member turned multiple layers of simplistic, musical repetitiveness into the cogs of a growling, well-oiled dance machine.
Case in point: "American Hookers," a classic from their Radio Angel and Robot Beat album. Piercing through the songs' pouncing distortion, von Rabbit chanted the chorus "Everybody's hooked now...everybody's hooked now...everybody's hooked," as the front row crowd dutifully tracked her every move.
Switching between guitars, basses and keys, Rutherford and von Rabbit didn't man one instrument for too long, which tended to slow down the show in some parts where awkward silences could have been easily erased with some decent stage banter or even some ringing distortion. However, shards of silence in the middle the song "Lost in Place," off their 2004 debut, Music to Start a Cult To
, were a great complment to their smoldering, trip hop echoes. Even though it was one of the oldest songs they played, it's still a powerful psychedelic sedative. Rutherford turned in some pretty decent vocal performances alongside von Rabbit on the atmospheric alt-pop of new tracks "Wheels in Motion" and "Rest My Case" that close out their regular set.
After hopping off stage for less than a few minutes, the band returned, relieving a few groaning fans and drunken cat calls for an encore. Luckily, they were good enough to dose us with the pounding, cardio beats of "Candy Flip," mixing artsy electro, decadent disco, and the kind of energetic jock jams you hear while running at the gym. Taking their final bow with the song "Dirty Horse," GR ended with the sound of haunting country-western, semi-psychotic imagery and the kind of hallucinogenic imagination that could only come from a pack of talented, desert dwellers.
Personal Bias: It's hard not to love a band that can bring the sounds of electro and country together without forcing you to plug your ears in order to stop the bleeding.
The Crowd: Mostly twenty and thirty something females who either looked up to von Rabbit or lusted after Rutherford and his skin tight jeans. Though most were dressed for a night out at the club, there appeared to be a few relaxed, desert hippie types who dressed in their homeliest free flowing skirts and shirts.
Overheard in the Crowd: One guy in front of was really disappointed that by the end of the band's first set, they hadn't played "Candy Flip" yet. "If they don't play that song, I swear I'm gonna die. That song has ruled my life for weeks." Luckily, he wasn't disappointed. But c'mon, do we have to be so dramatic?
Random Notebook Dump: During the entire set, I noticed one old guy in the front of the stage that tried to stand as close to the band as possible. For looking like a Disneyland tourist, he sure seemed to be hip to what the kids are into these days. Sorry if that was the dad of someone in the band or something.
"I Wear the Ears"
"Off With Your Head"
"Lost in Place"
"Wheels in Motion"
"Rest My Case"