It's been a turbulent 10 years for Sam Martin and Simon Katz. Together, the two saw their former project, Iglu & Hartly, rise to moderate success and then crumble before their eyes. But when one door closes another opens up, and for the longtime friends the demise of one project guided them to something bigger and brighter: Youngblood Hawke.
Recruiting fellow Los Angeles-based musicians, Martin and Katz got their groove back and began writing songs and touring again. And now, a mere few years later, Youngblood Hawke has toured the country, released a successful debut album and single (“We Come Runnin'”), and received placements in “American Idol” and a forthcoming Coke commercial.
“Raise your hand if you were at our last show at the Constellation Room,” Martin asked the packed Observatory last night in between songs. Only a handful of fans' hands shot up, and that show was last August. It's hard to believe that in less than a year a band can grow this exponentially, but after watching the six-piece perform, it's understandable.
Youngblood Hawke's recently released freshman album, Wake Up, is nothing out of the ordinary. It calls to other L.A. natives, Grouplove, with catchy, anthemic indie pop and saccharine sweet male/female harmonies, but this band's real appeal is in its stage presence. As soon as the members set foot onstage, Martin bursts with energy. When he wasn't singing, he pounded a tom drum and thrashed at a keyboard, banging his curly mop back and forth to the beat. When he sang he exuberantly pranced around, hopping up onto the ridged edge of the stage every chance he could.
The rest of the band fed off his energy, and during “Dreams,” fellow vocalist Alice Katz took her turn on the stage's edge as she sang the song's reverbed bridge. Her bandmates violently struck drums as she sang, creating a militant beat to offset her angelic vocals. The crowd seemed transfixed with the spectacle onstage and took awhile to warm up and move. During “Last Time,” the attendees clapped along, and when Alice jumped off stage and strutted across the photo pit benches, a sea of hands grasped for her. But it wasn't until the sextet played “We Come Runnin'” that the audience got fired up. “You have to sing as loud as you can on this one,” Martin exclaimed. His fans obliged, jumping and dancing on the floor and singing along to every word. As if the crowd wasn't riled up enough already, Martin and Alice both jumped on the stage's edge and clapped during the instrumental bridge, causing the audience to lose its collective shit.
The indie poppers slowed it down for the encore, playing a stripped down, acoustic version of “Sleepless Streets,” before finishing the set with “Forever” and “Glacier.” And as Martin frenetically pounded his drum during the end of the last song, he exuded as much energy as he did at the beginning of the night. It's the kind of energy that makes for a promising new band and it's the reason we'll most likely be back for more.
Critical Bias: Sam Martin's experience in Iglu & Hartly did him good. He's a charismatic, enthusiastic frontman, which is a very important thing.
The Crowd: Trendy Twenty Somethings
Overheard In The Crowd: People chanting “Alice! Alice!” as the band took stage.
Random Notebook Dump: The band played a cover of Notorious B.I.G.'s “Juicy.” An indie pop version of this may sound like a cute idea…but hip-hop should never be cute.