The Rakes + Fol Chen + Lower Heaven: 1 April 2009 - Los Angeles

Carole Ann Wright
Photo: Mathieu Zazzo

Rare as it may be, this was a set thankfully devoid of a weak link.

Lower Heaven
City: Los Angeles, CA
Venue: The Troubadour
Date: 2009-04-01

They haven’t played the United States in a while. Their much-anticipated new album doesn’t even have a stateside release date. And yet, for a band famous for quintessentially British lyrics about working a desk job all day before heading down to pub, the Rakes really know how to make an American crowd move.

Silverlake’s Lower Heaven started things off by ensuring that the handful of early birds present would be sure to save their energy for the coming festivities. Their droning, distortion-heavy melodies functioned well as musical depressants, but less so as an effective warm-up -- think Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, but with an autoharp and a lot more angst. Still, the co-ed quartet kept their focus, crafting an ambient backdrop for the audience’s conversations. In a different setting, they would have been almost great; unfortunately, their odd placement was the least of their worries as they failed to connect with the crowd, let alone leave a lasting impression beyond a craving for antidepressants.

Next, it was up to synthy, lo-fi quintet Fol Chen to fulfill their opening act duties by undoing the melancholy damage of their predecessors. The Los Angeles natives, clad in subtly matching outfits, happily displayed their penchant for funky post-punk and cheeky lyrics, letting the audience choose between a song about “sea sluts” and a Mariah Carey cover (“Emotion” without a hint of irony) before playing them both, anyway. Though raccoon-eyed frontman Samuel Bing played fearless leader for much of the set, it was keyboardist Melissa Thorne’s smoky yet innocent vocals -- like Metric’s Emily Haines but funkified -- on “Cable TV” that stole the show. It was certainly refreshing to witness an LA band that doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet manages to hit the nail on the head nonetheless.

No amount of jovial, Arcade Fire-like sing-alongs, however, could have fully prepped the packed house for the raucous sonic boom that the Rakes wasted no time to deliver. Each song moved relentlessly from one to the next, anchored by the infectious beats of drummer Lasse Petersen and bassist Jamie Hornsmith while singer Alan Donahoe strutted his well-dressed stuff like a depression-less Ian Curtis, a comparison most deserved on “That’s the Reason”. Donohoe baited the crowd successfully, striking pose after suggestive pose that belied the everyman lyrics he vigorously crooned.

A foppish cry of “Is anybody feeling sexual?” set the mood for a night filled with the sort of mutual vitality that LA rarely sees. The crowd sang along without even being prompted -- mainly to songs they’d never even heard before -- and went absolutely insane for British hit “22 Grand Job”, a tune that’s very title is somewhat lost in translation on this side of the pond. The punk energy and intelligent and oddly sophisticated lyrics seemed as effortless as new-album Klang, as the band provided a crash-course in the best of Brit pop/rock from the last 30 years. Donohoe’s mock-affected swagger and unselfconscious sense of humor aided all of this, not to mention his bandmates’ obvious musical aptitude.

The packed house seemed to pulsate through the entire set, keeping frenetic time with the throbbing beats that never once slowed down. Hipsters rubbed elbows with LA’s usual pop transplants, such as notorious Troubadour vets Har Mar Superstar and Art Brut’s Eddie Argos, but the focus remained on the Rakes’ mesmerizing display -- rightly so, as standouts such as “The Light from Your Mac” and “1989” showed just how damn catchy this whole dance-punk thing can be. Clichéd as this ubiquitous genre may be, these tracks proved surprisingly fresh, even while harkening so well to their recognizable roots on “That’s the Reason” and “We Are All Animals”. Rare as it may be, this was a set thankfully devoid of a weak link.

Waiting for the encore was a welcomed, albeit torturous, respite, but the boys kicked things right back up with “The World Was a Mess But His Hair Was Perfect”, the standout track off their ill-received second album, Ten New Messages, and kept it going right through to the end with their biggest American hit, “Strasbourg”. Judging from the non-stop dancing and kinetic state left in the Rakes’ absence, it was a pretty successful event.

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