all words: William Alberque
all photos: Farrah Skeiky
Veronica Falls kicked off their world tour with a welcome return to Washington last week, front-loading their set with tracks from their formidable run of 7” singles. Over the course of the set, however, the patent lack of energy in the room left me saddened and wondering what was wrong.
I was VERY excited to see Veronica Falls pull into town this week. I purchased my ticket as soon as I heard they were coming, posted to BYT my desire to review the show, and generally had my heart set on a wonderful evening.
I arrived a bit early, and the Backstage was already alarmingly full, but surprisingly not sold out. First up was Slumberland’s Brilliant Colors. In a review, Pitchfork reported that Veronica Falls objected to being compared to the C86 movement, saying that a lot of dodgy bands were associated with that movement. The Brilliant Colors, rather unfortunately, illustrate this point perfectly. Noisy enthusiasm and harshly jangling guitars can’t mask the lack of quality songs, and the singing? Well, two songs in, and I’m making my way for the Red Room. There, Chad America stands, head cocked, listening for a bit, before asking if I minded if he turned up the jukebox. I didn’t mind at all.
After they finished, I headed back inside. The Backstage was even more crowded, with patrons standing on the benches to get a better view of the stage. Moments later, Veronica Falls came out. They were cocked and ready to fire, flying out of the barrel with the stellar, driving, “Right Side of My Brain,” followed by “Stephen,” and, before I could catch my breath, “Beachy Head.” The band were in top form, each song sounding EXACTLY how I imagined they would sound in a live setting. I had doubted the sound at the Cat during the Colors’ set, but the wonderful tone of the Falls further affirmed my judgment on the opener’s set.
Veronica Falls use dueling male and female vocals, galloping percussion, and chiming guitar in a charming blend of surf-rock, C86, and “Blonde” (indie bands with female singers and a bunch of guys in the back, e.g., the Darling Buds, Bleach, and the Primitives). Doesn’t matter that we’ve heard it all before (especially Thru the Flowers-era Primitives). VF has some great songs. Still, some of the deeper album tracks start to blend together over the course of an evening. This is starkly illustrated as my attention starts to wander a few songs in, before “Bad Feeling,” and “Found Love in a Graveyard” shocks me back into the moment and beat back the malaise.
In a way, VF live is the opposite of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. The Falls sound great on record, but on the Backstage, the energy just drained out of the room. TPoBPaH, on the other hand, have some forgettable songs that are plain irresistible in a live context. I’m not sure why that is, but the audience seems pleased. I am confused especially by the crowd’s wild applause. Over the course of the entire evening, I can see maybe two people who come so close to dancing that they swayed maybe 10 degrees to the left or right, but everyone else has stood stock still for the whole show. I would commend them on their discipline, but that’s not supposed to be the point of a live show.
Perhaps if the crowd were moving, I’d have felt something other than a growing boredom as the night went on. Is that the band’s fault? Or are the kids today increasingly watching concerts as though through their smartphones – a spectacle happening in the distance, rather than an event that is only as good as the energy you are willing to put into it? I couldn’t say, but really, by the end, even songs I love on record, reproduced faithfully on stage, had me glaring at my watch, as though it were to blame. Maybe next time I should bring some marbles just to get people moving their feet just a bit.