On a Tuesday night, in one of Los Angeles’ most historic (and tiniest) venues, it’s the same old thing: Distracted twenty- and thirtysomethings swarming the bar, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they’ve just paid to see a show. This trend goes almost as far back as the Troubadour itself, though it is arguably excusable in certain situations. Opening acts, for example, are often greeted with apathy by an audience who hasn’t necessarily ever heard of them; it becomes the purpose of the opener, then, to not only warm up the crowd in anticipation for the headliner, but also to prove that they’re worth even the minimal attention that they are bound to receive by volume alone—a difficult task when competing with a chorus of conversation sometimes louder than the set itself. Headliners have it easy, especially if the opening act is a solid one. Even so, it’s not always a done deal, and this particular night did in fact prove to be an exception to the rule.
It was amid a general feeling of indifference that Red Cortez took the stage—and then they started playing. One by one, audience members were beaten into submission by the pure energy flowing from the four guys before them, led by the obvious aptitude of lead singer and jack-of-all-trades, Harley Prechtel-Cortez. With the epic grandeur of Coldplay’s Chris Martin and the raw passion of the Shins’ James Mercer, Prechtel-Cortez belied his youthful appearance (not unlike a baby-faced Benicio del Toro with a pompadour) with his fierce command of the stage and of the refined garage-rock tunes he helped to crank out. Though sometimes threatening to overshadow his respectably capable bandmates, even the nu-grunge nuances in the still-evolving tunes were saved by their dynamic jam-sessions, with Prechtel-Cortez at the helm regardless of what instrument he happened to pick up at any given moment. It was a one-two punch of talent-backed adrenaline, and exactly what an opening act should be.
By the time Brit-rockers Razorlight swaggered to the stage, the sold-out show was at capacity, appetites whetted and ready for the second course. Unfortunately, the English quintet has grown clearly more accustomed to arenas and seemed visibly stifled by the intimate setting. Frontman Johnny Borrell, doing his very best Mick Jagger, couldn’t quite connect as the band substituted volume for passion and continuously failed to form a cohesive sound. The disappointment reached a low-point during “Golden Touch”, arguably their biggest stateside hit, when Borrell held the mic out for a sing-along only to find that the audience didn’t actually know the words. It was a little bit brutal, to say the least, proving that massive success across the pond can still get lost in translation. Catch them in a large-scale environment, if you can, because the band does have promise, even if it’s hard to see in miniature.
Is there a moral to be gleaned from this experience? On the one hand, we have an up-and-coming band easily proving their musical worth to a group of disinterested LA snobs. Depressing? Yes, but certainly not a lost cause. A few more performances like that under their belts, and it’s only a matter of time before the buzz begins. On the other hand, we have a once buzz-worthy startup whose early success has had the unfortunate side effect of rendering them almost completely useless in any venue smaller than a stadium. Although it’s doubtful that Red Cortez, with their undeniable knack for kicking sonic ass, will suffer the same fate, it is nonetheless a cautionary tale that any new band would do well to follow closely: No matter how small the venue, how aloof the audience, or how massive your success overseas, a live show is still a live show, and you should still give 100%. You never know who’s listening between catty comments, after all.