By: Greggory Moore
Yellow Red Sparks
March 7, 2013
There's a little side room at Fingerprints where they display the books they sell, and where from time to time they set up a stage. It's was the perfect little enclave for Yellow Red Sparks, who returned to Long Beach for an in-store performance last night.
Yellow Red Sparks are easy to get your head around. Acoustic guitar seemingly glued to his solar plexus, Joshua Hanson croons with a plaintive howl with roots in the Appalachians. (Imagine John Fogarty crossed with Liam Gallagher.) Sara Lynn supplies upright bass, banjo, and harmonica (not simultaneously)–the natural complements to such a voice. Drummer Goldy rounds out the trio by keeping his brush-/stickwork so understatedly in the pocket that you almost miss how tastefully busy he keeps himself. If idle hands are the devils playthings, the Lord is well pleased with Goldy.
The trio opened with "Buy Me Honey," a 3/4-time swooner that some filmmaker is going to use when our heroine's man leaves town because they love each other, but it just can't work out between them. What works out perfectly between the band members is not just the music, but also those gorgeous, seemingly effort three-part harmonies. Some voices just fall out of bed in tune.
The trio cheated a bit on their second tune, "Scents and Sensibility," as a full organ part (complete with solo!) was in the mix, though no keyboardist was in sight. Similar shenanigans were in play on "Monsters with Misdemeanors," where a ghost violin accompanied Sara Lynn's bass bowing. And was that an orchestral bell I just heard? These are both great songs, and for sure the latter with have been lesser without the extra layer of texture added dark, driving rhythm. But I like my live music completely, well, live, you know? If someone was offstage with a synth supplying this stuff, why do we have to pretend this isn't happening?
"This song's about trying to make someone happy, which is impossible," Joshua said, launching into "Happiness Comes in a Box," another 3/4-time swooner that Mazzy Star would have been happy to call their own. "And the hardest part is in fact that we never win / And the hardest part is in learning to love where you've never been," Joshua sings in a voice full of weary romantic hopelessness. "It's awful, awful torture / An awful–or an artful–torture"
On advice from his sweetheart, Joshua said it's de rigueur to take off his glasses for closer "Seven Seas." She's right: they would have fallen off. It's the only Yellow Red Sparks song where the word "pounding" isn't out of place, but the band's restraint and tastefulness remained firmly in place. With a chordal similarity to opener "Buy Me Honey," the 40-minute set felt nicely bookended.
Yellow Red Sparks are busy kids. The Fingerprints show was sandwiched in between shows at UCLA and somewhere else in Los Angeles. And that was just Thursday. On Sunday they're off to Austin for nine SXSW shows. "Are you keeping up?" Joshua joked as he rattled off their itinerary. Presuming all their shows go as well as this one, I'm sure a lot more people will be keeping up with Yellow Red Sparks as time goes by.