It was a busy weekend for Southern California live music fans. The hipsters and cool people were at Vampire Weekend on Sunday night at the Hollywood Bowl, the Tapout and UFC crowd convened at Epicenter, and the other super cool people not at Vampire Weekend partook in Muse’s LA-area residency.
Yes, it was a busy weekend, but only those who spent their evenings at the Troubadour really got their money’s worth. It was there that Rx Bandits indulged in three full album shows: Friday was 2003’s The Resignation, Saturday 2006’s …And the Battle Begun, and Sunday 2009’s Mandala.
I scooped up a 3-day pass as soon as possible back when they went on sale months ago, so I had quite an enjoyable weekend.
Seattle-based Wild Orchid Children opened the show on Friday, and they were…interesting. Featuring former member of Gatsby’s American Dream Kirk Huffman on vocal duties, they sounded like a funky hybrid of Rage Against the Machine (due to Huffman’s vocal delivery) and stoner rock (what with the jam sessions and such). Huffman is also the lead singer of Kay Kay and his Weathered Underground, another Seattle band I’ve seen open for RXB in the past, but Wild Orchid Children were a totally different type of band from the laid-back grooves of Kay Kay.
By the time Matt Embree, Steve Choi, Joe Troy and Chris Tsagakis hit the stage and blew into Sell You Beautiful, I was in heaven. Hearing the twelve songs on that album in succession was simply amazing.
I’ve considered The Resignation one of my favorite albums ever for a few years now, and they all sounded incredible live. The wailing horns that begin Prophetic gave me chills, and the transition between Never Slept So Soundly and Taking Chase as the Serpent Slithers was just as seamless as it is on the record itself.
The show Friday really cemented Rx Bandits’ place in my mind as the best live band I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen them perhaps twenty times now, and each time I’m even more blown away by what I see. Matt, Steve, Joe, and Chris establish such a groove onstage that it’s obvious they’re loving doing this as much as we fans enjoy taking part in the performances.
After the raucous finale of Decrescendo, they came back out and treated us to an encore of Progress tracks VCG3, Consequential Apathy and Infection, as well as Only for the Night (from ATTB). As a devoted fan of Progress, I nearly had to change my pants during this encore. The relentless energy of these songs, now almost ten years old, combined with the enthusiasm displayed by the lively crowd, was a blissful moment for me and many other long-time devotees.
Saturday began with Magic Triangles, an interesting laid-back outfit fronted by Lauren Coleman, the face of Pebaluna, Goldfish Don’t Bounce, and frequent Bandits collaborator. They were really impressive, and her soaring voice accentuated the rich melodies hauntingly well.
Then, it was time for Bandits again. Songs like In Her Drawer, Only for the Night (with super-extended drum solos), 1980, and To Our Unborn Daughters nearly blasted me (and the rest of the crowd) to oblivion. I can’t stress enough just how magical these shows were. The encore that night was Infection, Overcome and Taking Chase as the Serpent Slithers. Seeing Infection two nights in a row was quite delicious.
By the time the Mandala show rolled around on Sunday, I was physically beat. I actually felt like one of those “I’m too old for this shit” moments, a la Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon. My arms were achy, my legs were mad, and my neck was sore from being so active and dancing my ass off the previous two nights. Because of that, we viewed the show from up atop the cramped balcony area. That allowed for some nice picture taking and videoing, without the stress of knowing my glowing camera screen was distracting anyone’s view. Observe:
Opening this night was Big Sir, a two-piece made up of Lisa Papineau and Mars Volta bassist Juan Alderete. They were lush and atmospheric, and Papineau’s vocals were impressive, as was Alderete’s bass play. As Papineau said, he is a bit of a big deal.
I’d say that I prefer ATBB over Mandala by a slight margin, but I enjoyed the Mandala night the second-most of the three. You can just tell that the guys love playing the newer material, slamming through songs like My Lonesome Only Friend, Mientras La Veo Sonar, Bury It Down Low, and Breakfast Cat.
Watching the show from up top really allowed me to focus on the interplay between the various Bandits – the way Troy plays off of Tsagakis’ drumming, Embree’s interaction with them and fellow guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Choi, and so on. Not being caught up in the energetic mosh pits helped me appreciate the intricacies of their performance even more.
By the time the show ended, and the encore of Consequential Apathy, Overcome and Only for the Night were over, I was in awe. For three nights in a row, these guys blew my mind in ways I hadn't thought possible.
The Rx Bandits put so much energy into each song, it’s just insane. There’s no down time in their show, it’s just one hundred percent precision and finesse pummeling you in the face.
Embree dedicated each night to “love, change, and equality” (I think that's right) respectively, all goals we should strive for in our lives. He wasn’t just saying these things to elicit cheers from the crowd; he and the rest of the band genuinely believe in such goals. The band’s ethic and the songs themselves are filled with hopeful thoughts about the future, as well as a heightened consciousness about the world we live in. Embree delivers such passionate exclamations while putting everything he has into his live performance, engaging with the crowd on and off the microphone and being a masterful guitar player, too.
Rx Bandits are truly a blessing for everyone who is familiar with them. They continually outdo themselves with each album and live performance that they take on.
Witnessing them in a jam-packed Troubadour three nights in a row made me even more grateful to be a fan. To anyone who hasn’t listened to them before, or gave up after they stopped being a ska band in the late 1990s, you should get back on board. They’re one of the most hardworking and prolific bands currently in existence, and this amazing, perfect weekend filled with joy, bliss, exuberance, energy and hope was a definite highlight of my concert-going life.
Sargent House Records is made up of a bunch of supremely talented bands, such as Fang Island, Russian Circles and Tera Melos, and Rx Bandits are no exception.
It's quite a nice treat to be able to watch your favorite band play three of your favorite albums back-to-back-to-back.
I just wish they’d do these kinds of shows every week.
Check out my photo gallery below, and sorry the pictures are so lame. I could use a camera upgrade.
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