For the entire week before the show, I listened to all the Ambulance LTD I could get my hands on—this Brooklyn quintet definitely has talent. Frankly though, none of the recordings really had me all that jazzed. They are good, not great.
7 Mar 2005: Bowery Ballroom New York
2003’s self-titled EP and 2004’s debut album entitled LP show a band defined by pretty solid grooves, swirling, hypnotic guitars, and, underneath it all, slinky, cool, well-crafted pop songs. They have, quite rightly, been lumped in with My Bloody Valentine and Teenage Fanclub, although I would add Jeff Buckley and the Velvet Underground to the list (in fact, LP contains a cover of the VU song “Ocean”). Still, it all seemed a little middle of the road.
But like many young bands, their live show blows their record out of the water. The band opened with “Yoga Means Union”, the transcendent swirling guitar opus that kicks off LP. On their CD the track has a more meditative and controlled feel; on stage, their guitars were loud and crunching, the bass riffs thick and smooth, and the potential energy palpable until the song’s half-way mark, when the band quits the atmospherics and tears the roof off the thing.
Ambulance LTD plays with abandon, lead by front man Marcus Congleton’s brooding energy and keyboardist Andrew Haskell’s buoyant intensity. During the riff-laden breakout coda to “Yoga Means Union”, the electricity on the left side of the stage went out, leaving bassist Matt Dublin and lead guitarist Benji Lysaght without any power. After the completion of the song, by the other three members, Dublin quipped that there was so much rock energy that they had sucked all the electricity out of the building. On “Yoga Means Union”, at least, I’d dare say he was right.
Ambulance LTD drew heavily from LP for this relatively brief, one-hour set. “Primitive (The Way I Treat You)”, the strongest single from the new record, also finds new life in the live setting. On record, the track is a bit tame and circumscribed; live, the choruses coast on a huge wave of electric guitars, soaring keyboards, and moody backing vocals.
Like My Bloody Valentine, Ambulance LTD seeks a Phil Spector wall of sound through distorted, dreamy electric guitars and keyboards. On stage they indulge that impulse much more so than on their records (they produced LP themselves, so I’m at a bit of loss for an explanation).
Standing in the second row, I was in pure bliss when guitar opuses like “Yoga Mean Union”, “Primitive”, and the pulsing “Heavy Lifting” blasted wave after wave of lush guitar noise. In that regard, Ambulance LTD seems an exciting band, one that has quite a future ahead of them.
Two things, however, kept me from feeling that the band put on a perfect show. For one, Congleton’s vocals, which on record are heavily processed and treated to blend in perfectly with the processed and treated guitars, sound a bit weak and strained on stage. While the nasty guitar swirl on the chorus of “Primitive” was a pure delight, hearing Congleton strain to hit the high notes was not as pleasant. He may look and even sound like Jeff Buckley at times, but his pipes are nowhere near.
Also, I personally get a bit bored by Ambulance LTD’s slower, more atmospheric pop songs, like “Stay Where You Are” and “Anecdote”. The band’s strengths are their hooks and grooves, not their pop craftsmanship or vocal dexterity.
On the whole, however, Ambulance LTD put on a great show. They are intense and moody, yet laid-back. Most of the members were dressed just as any twenty-something Brooklyn male dresses nowadays, in stylish jeans, cowboy boots or sneakers, and ratty T-shirts or ironically preppy sweaters.
Their music is made with a lot of care and quality, yet is not really all that stylish, hip, or ironic. Throughout the show, I couldn’t help but feel like this was a great version of the local band we all loved in high school. I don’t see Ambulance LTD taking over the world, but I don’t see them disappointing anyone either.