Winter Formal

Photo by James BunoanDios
Chain Reaction, Anaheim
Sunday, Dec. 21

The kids were slow-dancing the way kids always slow-dance—babyfaced and sullen, eyes bolt open, barely shuffling their shoes off the floor—and we were at prom all over again, thanks to the Chain Reaction Winter Formal. Since this is California, it was neither as winter or formal as you might think—and Dios was there with us. "Say this is like the Monkees opening for Hendrix," bassist J.P. told us. Well, sorta, J.P, but it was more like Brian Wilson and his bathrobe opening up for Sha-Na-Na on a very special episode of The Wonder Years—we're feeling either loss-of-virginity or evils-of-drunk-driving here, both of which pretty much defined prom as we once knew it. Mostly, Dios play pretty sad and gentle, loopy late-nite pop, but they sounded almost KROQ tonight; must be the concentrated ambient effect of the teenage audience's alpha waves. And it took almost the whole set for them to shake off the atmosphere and settle back to their normal sappy selves. But there was a little moment there, if anyone wanted it: guitarist Joel starts drowsily strumming away by himself and the rest of the room just flakes away from the edge of our vision—the kids not even dancing but just standing, eyes on the stage apparently only out of habit, the rest of Dios dissolving into flatness as they tune and cough and crack knuckles and study their shoes—until it's just Joel with an acoustic guitar stretched over his shoulders, so quiet we can just about hear his sweater gnawing at the strap, so quiet we actually can hear the pick nicking against each string, and he keeps ticking through chords so understated that we get every word spooned right up to our lips, whether we like it or not: "Growing old is always hard to do/empathize and realize that it's happening to you/just one more day and one more month and one more year until/your body goes, your mind implodes, your wife's left with the bill..." See, our high school motto was Omnia Vanitas (yours should have been, probably), and by the time the rest of Dios swan dives into the final chorus—it's funny how they wrote in a space for everyone to catch their breath, just before that last note goes off the cliff—we couldn't help but watch the crowd not watch the band and feel a little...sad, somehow? "You and I know/you don't understand a thing I say/so I won't go away, no/you don't understand a thing I say/so I...," sings Joel, but you never get the last word—could be lie, cry, try, die; they all work, don't they?—because by then the song is rearing up underneath him and he's got his back to the crowd and it's slow-mo fireworks that run as long as they want them to run. At the time, it seemed like nobody was paying attention. But that's OK: we were paying enough attention for everyone. (Chris Ziegler)

House of Blues, Anaheim
Monday, Dec. 8

Being nominated for three Grammys should be the kiss of death for any new, street-cred-worthy band. But just a year after their debut album, Floetic, got far too many props from a music academy desperate to be associated with anything young and cool, Floetry dodged all the bad industry juju this night by working the stage like their lives—or at least their careers—depended on it. And for all the sweat they squeezed, the audience tossed heaping platters of love at them.

Floetry are one of the few bands who absolutely deserve all the sloppy wet kisses they get. Part of this has something to do with their cuddly factor. Singer Marsha Ambrosius and MC Natalie Stewart are the anti-Beyonc. With chunky bodies covered in sports clothes designed for a low-rent PE class, they sure weren't going to steal the boyfriends of the hundreds of homegirls who packed the House of Blues on a Monday, the dreariest school night of them all.

Instead, they were staking their claim to underground hip-hop with a big bear-hug of soul, with a live band that included trombones, keyboards, bass and two percussionists (and no backing tapes). But they stumbled at the start of the two-hour set. Stewart's hip-hop-accented spoken-word and Ambrosius' soulful yelps didn't quite jibe; it was as if Floetry were mixing two enemy radio stations together, each trying to drown out the other with static. At the halfway point, they finally stopped tripping over one another by dropping their ultimate slow jam, "Getting Late," summoning the love-ballad power of Barry White and the sleek confidence of LL Cool J.

Ambrosius then switched gears, shifting her voice into something that was pretty close to soul's origins (for a few minutes there, you felt what it must have been like to hang around Stax Records in the '60s), while Stewart's delivery jumped from scrappy oratories to truth- and soothsaying. For the show's final few minutes, the band exited the stage and left Ambrosius and Stewart to do their thing a capella, their lone voices filling up the room, guiding the audience down a one-way-street to soul heaven. (Andrew Asch)


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