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French Kicks + The Broken West

Carole Ann Wright
Photo: Carole Ann Wright

Someone should definitely do a study on the “rock ‘n’ roll gene"...

French Kicks + The Broken West

City: Los Angeles, CA
Venue: Doug Weston’s Troubadour
Date: 2009-02-24

Someone should definitely do a study on the “rock ‘n’ roll gene,” this mythical piece of DNA that could quite possibly be what influences people not only to start a band, but also instinctively shows them how to handle themselves once that band hits the road. It might help to explain why “sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” as Ian Dury so concisely put it, seem to all go hand-in-hand. Until then, we can only marvel at the sometimes-comical forms this harmony takes, especially in the least hard-rocking circumstances. Apparently, though, even the most Cinemax-y indie rock can still rock with the best of them, at least figuratively. But let’s start with the openers, Los Angeles’ own The Broken West. Though running relatively strong five-years into their existence, the borderline alt-country five- and sometimes six-piece is still treading on the unstable ground of a garage rock outfit on the verge of mainstream relevance. Their relatively short set opened with a deliciously relentless stream of danceable indie-pop beats layered beneath intricate harmonies reminiscent of late ‘90s radio (not unlike a catchy Gin Blossoms/Arcade Fire hybrid, as unholy as that might sound). It’s a shame that things started to fall apart a bit from there, but it wasn’t a total loss. Even after frontman Dan Lead pulled a classic rock faux pas, kicking a beer over and nearly electrocuting his fellow bandmates in the process, their honest, infectious energy helped them power through it and left the crowd in quite a tizzy. With some added fine-tuning, they’ll be poised for a breakthrough (and with an upcoming appearance on the as-yet-untitled Gossip Girl spin-off currently in the works, they’re sure to accomplish just that). It was an odd transition from the unassuming garage pep of the openers to the nightmarish wonderland of French Kicks. Listening to recent offerings Two Thousand and Swimming, you’d never peg the playfully-named New york-based foursome as being an ultra-ambient, shoegaze-y, My Morning Jacket-meets-Pinback sort of jam band -- and as the set wore on it became fairly obvious that the rest of the band hadn’t received that memo, either. Though lead singer (and sometimes guitarist, and sometimes bassist) Nick Stumpf swaggered onstage with eyes so red and puffy you could see them from space, it wasn’t until he broke out into a solo jam that clearly caught his bandmates completely off-guard that the crowd really caught on to the bigger picture. At times, drummer Aaron Thurston skipped beats like a broken record in his efforts to reign in the sprawling experimentation, and Stumpf’s brother, guitarist Lawrence, seemed to be surviving on sibling telepathy alone. Not that jam sessions are a bad thing, but perhaps Stumpf should have got the rest of the band on board first. Still, the set was comical, to say the least, and the ardent fans danced their hipster hearts out to fan favorite, “So Far We Are”, though they did save the oft-requested “Knee High” for the encore (and even then it was tough to tell that they were playing it at all). Okay, so Nick Stumpf’s foray into the mind-altering rock world of lore may not have gone off without a hitch, but it could have been worse. In the grand scheme of crazy band antics, French Kick’s mystifyingly odd set isn’t likely to keep any tongues lagging, but it does keep that question lingering in the air: What is it that prompts musicians to play with fire, so to speak? You know, even if that fire is just a little spark. Perhaps we’ll never know, at least until that study on the mythical “rock ‘n’ roll gene” is complete.

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