all words: Marie Formica
all photos: Katherine Gaines
Ah, the gentle “La Sera.” Katy Goodman of Brooklyn outfit “Vivian Girls” took her first stab at songwriting at her parents’ house in Ridgewood, NJ while the Vivian Girls were on break from touring. A year and two albums later, Goodman’s East Coast tour came to the Red Palace in DC. Opening for them was DC girl/surf/punk rock group Beach Week.
Kate and Jill Miller are the two sisters who make up Beach Week, playing guitar/vox, and drums/harmonica (yeah, with harmonica neck brace). Full of energy, songs like “Kurt V” and “Beauty Queen” were laced with a vocal purposely over-emphasizing a hiccup, nasal pronunciation and girly sweetness, presumably meant to mock a valley girl. This brought an irony to idyllic lyrics like: “I need you / I want you / and if you’re / gonna walk away / please save it / for another day” (Kurt V).
Satisfying chunky instrumentation branded the songs played from their EP “Teen Dreams & Beauty Queens” (what is it about being a girl that causes you to revisit themes like teenagerdom and beauty queens and catholic school girls? We can’t get over it I guess). Miller (Kate) was charming, demanding a giggly “do over!” and introducing a song with the note that this “is for Chuck Brown, I suppose, because go-go’s been a big influence on our band.” Over steady drums by Miller (Jill), the heavy reverb and sugary sweet vocals gave a solid set.
After a few minutes of break down and set up, bassist and former physics major “Kickball Katy” Goodman stalked onstage Friday night with her long red hair swinging, bangs cut just high enough to let us see her eyes. Comfortable enough in front of an audience, laughing and looking out with sideways glances, she and the four bandmates making up “La Sera” fiddled with levels and tuning.
Goodman & Co. kicked off the catchy “Break My Heart” from newly released album, “Sees the Light.” This song’s definite punk influences meant a quick pace and lots of grungy guitar. The cool thing about this song and the La Sera project in general is that this aggressive, in-your-face punk-ish music is smoothed over by Goodman’s beautiful (seriously) vocal work. Fast, decisive guitar with soft vocals worked well, honey on granola or new paint on hot asphalt or a slip’n’slide over a rocky back yard.
Lyrics too contrasted sharply from what could have been a much more belligerent song (“Break My Heart” sung sadly over and over), it was surprising to hear them together. The next song was from the first album and defines the other, much different, feeling of the songs that night. The slower “Devils Hearts Grow Old” used repetitive, dreamy guitar and repetitive harmony (nailed at this show by two dudes, one of which was easily seven feet tall), so much more characteristic of a 1950’s popular-again surf rock style that cropped up again and again in this show.
While Goodman is not one for talking much, guitarist Rob Barbato (aforementioned seven foot tall, bearded dude) took the house down with quips. He remarked on how humid DC is, and after “Devils Hearts Grow Old” members of the audience yelled out, “Hoo, it’s so humid in here.” Barbato agreed, and there was much laughter. (It was funnier than that, I’m just not funny. Deal.)
Goodman sang pretty melodies in “I Can’t Keep You in My Mind” and “Behind Your Eyes,” swaying with her bass in front of the mike, giant tuning keys glittering in the technicolor-style stage lights at Red Palace. Especially during a breakdown in “Behind Your Eyes,” the band was markedly in tune with one another; Goodman even turned from the stage to make eye contact and play in sync with their drummer Jonathan “Matzah” Weinberg. She had a Mona Lisa smile the whole show, even her sarcasm sounded sweet. “It’s so quiet in here,” she said, “How about you guys just scream at he top of your lungs until we start again?” Then, she cheered our efforts on.
She sang with her eyes closed behind that mike and bass, clearly into it but simultaneously holding something back. Not to fear, dear readers, personality oozed through the tracks played. Fuzzy, droning guitars in “How Far We’ve Come Now,” another new song, leveled low enough to hear Goodman’s melodic vocal wanderings, layering the song into oblivion. Bittersweet / triumphant lyrics “Can you see how far we’ve come now / alone” rang out over an audience full of tapping feet and nodding heads (and even a little alternative dancing, in corners). “Love That’s Gone” too exemplifies La Sera’s current style: quirky sad but bright sunny waxy feeling.
Little riffs of guitar intervened amidst hissing tambourine and slow tempo drums. “Do you not remember when you broke my heart?” Goodman sang in “I’m Alone,” a song sounding part Belle and Sebastian and part nineties alt rock. Ending the show with two tracks from the 2011 self titled album (“Never Come Around” and “Going to Cry”), Goodman came around a little bit with triumphant dancing, hair swinging and brighter smiling. People huddling closer, getting a taste of radiance from a sad sun in a far away universe. “Drop off the edge with me my love,” she sang.