Photos By Jake Ephros, Words By Trent Burns
DC9’s modest upstairs stage packed a sizable crowd for a Thursday for Cheers Elephant, an awesomely down to earth rock band originally from Philadelphia that recently moved out to LA. Joining them were local acts The Jackfields and The Trillions for an evening of music that kept the good vibes going well into Friday.
Local duo The Jackfields performed an opening set, and treated early bird concertgoers to a unique fusion of ambient alternative and indie-folk. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Reina channeled his inner Bob Dylan, delivering wry lyrics amidst smoldering, reverb-drenched guitars. Meanwhile, lead guitarist Anthony Priog’s spacey post-rock riffs provided the perfect counterpoint. It wasn’t exactly the raw energy one might expect from a local opening act (that came next) – this is music best enjoyed during solitary moments of introspection. Reina, as loveably deadpan in between songs as while singing, even laughed and remarked “feel free to bring a book to our shows and read, that’d be cool.” But make no mistake; The Jackfields compositional and performance prowess continually impressed me throughout their set. Strikingly simple layers of guitars stacked on top of each other, as well as the occasional drum machine beat, formed wonderfully textured songs that showcased both Reina’s vocals as well as Pirog’s shoegaze inspired guitar work beautifully. Songs like “Later Than You Like” and “Leave Me Alone” were performance highlights, and drew notable approval from the ever-growing crowd.
In an abrupt about face, Richmond natives The Trillions exploded onto stage with “Experts” and “Blessing”. The loud, rowdy, rocking quartet took The Strokes, classic Weezer (read: good Weezer), a pinch of punk legends The Ramones, and tossed them in a blender for the better. Garage-rock vocals and nerd-rock tinged alternative made for a high-octane (and high volume) performance that set the night in motion. New songs like “1984” offered floor shaking bass, dynamic drums, and enough ragged guitar rhythms to set feet tapping and heads swaying. The audience pressed right up to DC9’s tiny stage, which only made the whole ordeal that much more exciting. Even I, the self-admitted most boring concertgoer ever, couldn’t escape The Trillions’ infectious energy.
Remarkably, that energy flowed evenly throughout the entire set. “We’re gonna slow things down a little, but that doesn’t mean it’ll get any quieter” joked frontman Charles Glen at one point, “sorry, we’re just fucking loud I guess.” And it’s true, The Trillions’ sound filled DC9’s tiny stage 3 times over – but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. With energy levels that high, it’s hard to identify a singular set highlight. But closing songs “Parallelograms” and “Dream to Sleep” went beyond loud and fun, and showcased The Trillions’ talent as individual musicians as well as a collective unit. From raucous punk to poppy post-garage to nerd-rock circa Pinkerton, The Trillions mixed up a sound all their own and brought it all crashing down in one hell of an opening set.
Last, but obviously not least, Cheers Elephant took control of DC9. “This is our first time back on the east coast in, like, 6 months or something,” remarked frontman Derek Krzywicki remarked, “it feels good!” Normally I try to be pretty concise in my description of a band’s sound, but Cheers Elephant caught me off guard. Sure, they have elements of garage-rock, indie-rock, surf-rock, and punk-rock, but none of those are quite right. It boils down to, I think, a simple and pleasantly surprising conclusion – at the end of the day, Cheers Elephant just plays Rock. With a capital R. It’s simple, infectiously happy music that many (myself included) may have believed to be dead. If what they say is true, and Rock will never die, then Cheers Elephant is now exhibit A in my book.
Their opening number “Airliner” mixed growling bass, impressive harmonizing, and lead vocals that would surely earn two thumbs up from Julian Casablancas. Krzywicki shuffled and moonwalked across the tiny DC9 stage in a pair of well-worn Rainbow sandals, while the rest of the band drew the audience ever closer with similarly infectious energy. Whereas other bands may have given me dirty looks for resting my foot on the edge of the stage (DC9 is pretty tight on space), bassist Matt Rothstein just gave me a ‘sup’ nod and a huge smile. I can’t remember the last time so many good vibes poured off a stage.
Cheers Elephant’s twangy, blues infused garage-rock attitude made their east coast roots clear. But the phaser laden, swirling guitars and triple-layer harmonies on newer songs like “Falling Out” made it clear that sunny California has made a psychedelic impression on these east coast transplants. It was simple, sunny, dance-rock that was so much fun it made me wish I could move back to LA with these guys when their tour ends. Maybe it was the small venue, or the ‘we’re-still-growing’ attitude of Cheers Elephant, but this was the type of show where the band and the crowd felt like old friends reconnected by music. “This is pure vodka aren’t I cool” joked Krzywicki as he took a sip of water. Perhaps it was a subtle hint, because moments later the band accepted the crowd’s offering of shots – “This is when the set starts to sound really good to us,” Krzywicki laughed, “and not so good to you all. You’ve had your time in the sun now it’s our turn.”
But with an explosive drum count-in, the band launched wholeheartedly into “Leaves” (a personal favorite of mine) and literally got the whole room swaying. Between mellow guitars, snappy drums and sauntering bass, it was hard to tell whether Cheers Elephant or the dancing crowd shook the floor more.
To close the set, Cheers Elephant obliged a crowd request (an increasingly rare occurrence these days), and played an old favorite, “Captain Crowninshield”. It was fast, it was loud, and it was so, so much fun – just like the set as a whole. Trite though it may sound, the guys in Cheers Elephant came off as so approachable and so down to earth that I couldn’t help but admire their music all the more. These are four great guys who could be your neighbors – if your neighbors happened to also be killer musicians. If you missed Cheers Elephant, well then you missed out. But with a future as bright as theirs seems (no pun intended, they do live in SoCal), there’s no doubt they’ll be around again soon. I’ll sure as hell be there, and so should you.