FOR a week or two now i've been hearing whispers about the LA band the 88 -- that their fan base was dwindling, that their latest show would be empty, that they were gonna have to put out their next record by themselves, etc.
so i was pleased to walk into their gig at the key club on sunset last night and find the place quite well attended and the energy level high. is the band in trouble? maybe. but their exhausting, two-set stand last night was triumphant and at times, transcendent.
HERE, btw, is my piece on the band from last fall (i interviewed them before leaving the paper and it ran after i left -- an eerie conjunction.) more cheerily, here is "how good it can be" from their 2005 show at sea level records, most of which is also on youtube.
indie geeks know this: a few years back, bands started -- as the traditional "album" became a relic thanks to ipods and so on -- playing their classic records (another nostalgic term) all the way through live: sonic youth doing the two-decade old "daydream nation," for instance. about the same time, bands performing classic albums by OTHER groups became retro-chic as well.
it was in this spirit that the 88 -- who are typically likened to the 60s kinks -- played as their first set the entirety of dylan's "highway 61 revisited" album. from the first drum kick to "like a rolling stone," i could tell this was going to be awesome and it only got better.
keith sletterdahl is not a particularly dylanesque singer, and he found a happy medium between his own style and the 60s dylan's combination of hesitation and bite. (there were mercifully only a few moments of sletterdahl's distinctive/annoying jumps in vocal register. which i think were accidental.)
after the first song, keith mentioned how "ridiculously fun this is for us,"; i've rarely seen a band enjoy itself so much onstage.
what was most amazing was the band's energy -- esp keyboardist adam merrin, esp since this record is built around the keyboard -- and the way they reminded you how incredible that record is. this is when dylan was smart, cryptic, bluesy, and tons of fun. his lyrics were so perfect -- i've not played that record in years, but i knew almost every line. is there a bad or even forgettable song on that record? (and for my money it is not even the best dylan record.)
"queen jane approximately" was especially good, i thought.
the last song, "desolation row," started with keith on guitar, with the band filling in gradually -- a familiar technique that worked, and offered a nice change of dynamic from the full, almost cluttered, organ-driven rush of the other songs.
overall, an incredible show, and the second set, built on the 88's own songs, was fine too, though "highway 61" was a tough act to follow. this is a band known for its songwriting, and the set reminded us how perfectly crafted songs like "how good it can be," "coming home," "nobody cares," etc are, and there were some new songs as well. some of these were so high-spirited i worry that the band will give in to continuous sugar high at some point. (they may need a little grit to bring them back to what they do best.)
the show drew an unusually crowd -- older, generally heavy men who likely remember the day "highway 61" was released, 16-year-girls who think the singer is cute, and a few geezers in the middle like yours truly. when the sets changed, the average weight in the put in front of the stage went down significantly.
in any case, a reminder of the dialogue with the past that music can offer.
Photo credit: the 88