May 22, 2011
I have seen many live shows in my years appreciating alternative music, including some loud ones. Ever since EMF left me in so much pain at the Cameo Theater in Miami Beach back in the early nineties that I had to leave the show before the first encore ended, leaving my ears ringing for a week, the ensuing years of damage to my ears has continued with barely noticeable side effects. In other words, more often the not, I leave live shows with little, if any, ear ringing, as all those little hairs inside the ear were mostly wiped out by a damn one-hit-wonder.
Friday night at Miami’s Vagabond, however, Crocodiles worked voodoo on my eardrums with their appropriately spooky, dense pop rock, leaving my ears ringing into the next morning. Not that it gives me something to celebrate, it just offers some insight into how loud this band was. Adding to the surreal quality of the music, the five piece of three dudes and two gals from San Diego, dressed in mostly black and made little effort to connect with the audience just a foot from the stage beyond offering a whoosh of music played at maximum volume. It was an assault on an audience that ate it up with abandon, particularly the gyrating young women who flanked either side of the stage decked out in their finest ironic hipster outfits, at times rubbing up on each other. Despite a fine sampling of what only Miami can offer in a female audience, lead singer Brandon Welchez, hid behind classic Ray Bans and posed on stage with swaggering but distant cool. He said nothing to the crowd except “Apocalypse!” and “Doomsday!” ahead of the following day’s prediction by some Christian fundamentalist minister who has built a religious empire on the idea that May 21, 2011 would mark the arrival of the rapture.
On to the music and a little on how it translated live: The loudness was not all to the band’s benefit, as a lot of the band’s catchy quality disappeared in the white noise of the volume. However, it allowed for an aural hallucinatory experience as only the loudest music can, and I can appreciate that. However, the price you pay for droning noise is a loss in dynamics that chased more than one audience to the patio to listen to Alex Caso spin the “weird stuff.”
The experience of Crocodiles live is quite different from listening to their newest album Sleep Forever (Support the Independent Ethos, buy the vinyl on Amazon.com). The opening track, which you can hear in the video uplaoded to YouTube below, translated particularly nice live.
Whereas “Mirrors” opens the album with a looping almost Krautrock-like drone with a drum machine and quietly swelling feedback, as keyboards noodle out an entrancing melody, live it becomes a whole other beast. Alianna Kalaba beats the skins in an entranced state doing a decent Klaus Dinger (of Neu!), while keyboardist Robin Eisenberg breaks out a droning high-speed organ melody. The mouth-open expression of guitarist Charles Rowell as he choked his instrument for the decorative feedback and the closed-eyed stillness of bassist Marco Gonzalez, showed they were into the din, too. Welchez added to the bombast by picking up a guitar for the song. It was a nice five-minute exploration of entrancing rhythm and noise, but for the band to truly live up to Spacemen 3 comparisons would have demanded a little more self-indulgence.
It was moments like that which best suited the loudness of the show, and it was best experienced with full attention, hence my lack of usual videos that accompany my live reviews. Though I never made a video of “Mirrors” that night, there is a great full live show by the Crocodiles at a music festival in Germany here. “Mirrors” starts 15 minutes in, so you can have an idea of its live translation.
I also might fault the sound to the venue. The opening act, West Palm Beach’s the Band in Heaven voiced their concerns, as they struggled with the sound throughout their set. On stage, the lead singer protested about an hour’s worth of sound-checking for a shoddy end result (not his words verbatim), and he also assured the audience the trio sounded better on CD, offering audience members a free CD for the taking.
Despite the sound issues, I stand by my personal experience of enjoying the short set of psychedelic-influenced dream pop produced by Crocodiles during a set that ended way too soon. I was able to video one song, one of their poppier moments called “Hearts of Love,” thanks to my friend Kristen who leant me her camera and uploaded the video on YouTube (it actually sounds better on YouTube than it did live, as the camera must have one heck of a smart microphone). Watch it here:
Crocodiles’ only up-coming live date is in their home state of California, according to their blog page:
June 5, Oceanside, CA @ 94.9 Independence Jam