(2 Apr 2014: The Soda Bar San Diego)
The year was 2011. Ume was named by Rolling Stone as one of the top unsigned bands in the country and it seemed the Austin, Texas power trio would soon be soaring to the top of the modern music world. The band had released their debut LP Phantoms and was winning raves with every gig thanks to singer/guitarist Lauren Larson’s dynamic onstage presence.
The waifish blonde has a soft-spoken Southern belle type of voice when she speaks, but it belies her true musical persona. There’s a dark angel inside and when the band cranks up the amps, Larson turns into a mesmerizing rock goddess with her furious riffs and urgent voice. She also flies a flag for the sentiment that couples who play together stay together - she’s married to her bassist Eric Larson, with whom she began collaborating when both were in high school. He seems to care little for the spotlight, content with the best spot in the house. He teams with drummer Rachel Fuhrer to create a powerhouse rhythm section behind the alt-rock siren of their dreams.
Ume probably would have rocketed to platinum album sales and global stardom if they’d hit the scene at the height of the grunge era 20 years ago. Perhaps they were born too late,or maybe the band is a gift from the music gods to assist the continuing evolution of the alt-rock sound that revolutionized rock in the early ‘90s.
Lauren Larson has likely had any number of chances to “sell out” and take her music in a more commercial direction to achieve a faster track to fame and fortune. There’s times when her voice recalls ‘90s alt-queens like Tanya Donelly of Belly, the Deal sisters from the Breeders, and the gals in Veruca Salt. There’s probably been several music industry big wigs who have tried to push her to sugar up Ume’s sound, but the heavy vibe that Ume continues to pursue on their new album Monuments makes it clear that this band is sticking to their guns. The band’s name (pronounced “ooo-may”) is taken from a Japanese plum blossom that the Larsons later learned symbolizes perseverance and devotion. This aptly symbolizes the band’s commitment to their musical vision.
The Soda Bar doesn’t exactly provide an ideal setting to witness a such a powerful band, with a bar in the middle of the room that makes for a small and cramped stage area. A band from Austin has about 50 better places to play there in the live music capital of the world, but a band from the thriving Austin music scene is also going to step up and deliver the goods no matter what.
The trio rocked with a furious energy from the start, with Lauren Larson tearing up her guitar while headbanging and swinging her long hair around as if she were playing a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden or the LA Forum. Tunes from the new album like lead track “Black Stone” and “Chase It Down” connected with a deep impact, with Larson’s heavy riffs and some string slides recalling Billy Corgan’s ace guitar work in the Smashing Pumpkins. “Chase It Down” was another top track from the new album, with Larson exploding on stage with her infectious riffs and soul-searing vocals over a bone-crunching groove from her mates.
“She’s like if Lita Ford and Kurt Cobain had a baby”, commented a lady in the room who was impressed with Larson’s hard rocking vibe and gritty vocals. “Gleam” was another shining moment, starting slow and then building behind angelic vocals from Larson and catchy riffs that still rocked hard. Her intensity level rarely waned from the sustained peak she occupies atop the Mt. Olympus of women in rock. The band’s set was scarcely more than an hour, but it felt longer due to the high intensity of the performance.
Lauren Larson signed autographs while manning the merch table afterward and it was clear that the rock goddess has a down to earth personality and humble appreciation for being able to play live music on tour, even at a dive like the Soda Bar. If there’s any justice in this music world, Ume will soon be headlining much larger venues.