By Lisa Burke
January 9th 2017, Echoplex, Los Angeles CA: Selling out in rock n’ roll terms can either be a positive or negative term depending on the context, and in some cases it can serve as a little of both. On Monday January 9th 2017, I went to Echoplex specifically for a local Los Angeles band I have known of since their origin in 2010, a band I have been in support of when I can get out to one of their shows. That band is Stitched Up Heart, and they were the headliners of the evening with a strong lineup of four bands consistent with female rock vocalists, and although the music ranged in flavor there was a hint of emo running through all of it.
If there was a better word such as goth to describe this vibe I would use it, but the definition of the word emo which states a style of rock music resembling punk but having more complex arrangements and lyrics that deal with more emotional subjects is exactly the common theme of the night, therefore the term serves as wildly appropriate. Back to the selling-out part, this show did not, but there was an above average-sized crowd for such a large space on a Monday night, which in my opinion is the hardest night to get a crowd out for. The main draw actually seemed to be for the only non-local band which was by far my favorite band of the night, Letters From The Fire, who call the Bay Area home and were formed in this decade.
More on that later, as it’s time to go back to the beginning of the evening, where a local female-fronted quartet called Wild Eyes opened the night with a pleasant vibe and good quality rock n’ roll. This was by far the mellowest and most carefree rock n’ roll band of the bunch, but the lead vocalist had a strong clear, crisp sound and all the presence to back it up. The guitar was as it should be, ranging from slight bluesy to a hint of country and pop, while the soft-hitting drums rounded out the edges of the tunes nicely. The tambourine was in abundance, but no harm no foul there, plus the sound overall was clear as day. They gave it their all even though the crowd was sparse, and they showed their appreciation for being on the stage, which is always a nice touch that displays clearly the priorities they live by, which probably order as rock n’ roll, sex, and drugs, instead of the usual catch phrase.
Next on the line up was a local female-fronted trio called Varna that really could have benefited by a bass player to tone down that high-pitched guitar tone. I love a good trio, bass-less or not, but this was nothing more than a talented vocalist who got thrown into the wrong band. The drumming was flying out basics followed by extra unnecessary drum rolls just for fun, and the guitar tone just never evened out for me. The idea of the songs and the lyrics/vocals and singing style are wanted in this modern world, but the execution was lost.
Moving on to the welcomed surprise of the night, Letters From The Fire put on a fantastic, highly energetic set that not only was the heaviest of the lot, but also the best with stage presence. One of the standout qualities was that although the singer was the only female and she was strong and full of presence, the rest of the band carried their own weight, so she wasn’t over-dominating them as is the case for almost every band of this nature that I’ve seen. This is far from an easy feat to pull off, and they managed it well, from the neon and black flying V, to the slap-a-holic bass player, to the hard and fast hitting drummer. They were all very entertaining to watch with the skills to back it up. The only minor criticism would be to tighten their game slightly in the area of technicalities and timing. Once on par, they would be able to blaze through the set with utmost confidence that any label then should be happy to make them a part of. Touring is half the battle and they’ve already proven their worth in that regard. For not my favorite style of music, only because it was backing track heavy with no live keys, they made a very positive lasting impression and they set the bar high for other modern goth hard rock bands with an emo flavor. The live keys were not missed here as the backing tracks all fit the music well and the five players filled out the stage nicely, while the singer expressed great range. With their new single ‘Worth The Pain’ exciting the crowd, among other songs such as ‘At War’ to keep the interest, they didn’t disappoint. The vocals were backed up and enhanced by interspersed moments of growl from the guitarist that added an extra heavy punch to the mix, alongside the fancy light show run by someone who cares about the light show instead of a robot. This was also the first band to use the video backdrop with the live image of the singer doubled in it, in a way that made it appear as an opposite reflection. Stitched Up Heart also used this effect and I wonder who chose it first, although in the end as a tour package this worked as a repeat effect regardless.
On to the finale with Stitched Up Heart I’ll preface with the reiteration that I may or may not have seen one of their first shows ever, but one specific show resonates with me which was at a dive bar in Pasadena in either 2010 or 2011. Vocalist “Mixi”, who has clearly grown as a singer in all ways possible, was a cute mismatched dark haired pigtailed goth girl with a broken heart and a pitch-perfect voice who basically resembled the Pipi Longstocking of goth girls. They made a good first impression and from what I remember, their first tunes were gothic hard rock and hardcore, and they seemed to hold a crowd with the rawness and vulnerability in their sound. Fast forward about seven years, and modern Mixi has perfectly teased and curled long blond hair that she seems more focused on whipping about than getting the clarity in her vocals. Her vocals by the way are beautiful and pitch perfect, but in today’s world they are covered in backing tracks and her band of pros operate more on auto-pilot than free hand. The reality here is, the girl had a dream and it involved success which sadly she would probably not have reached of the same fruition had she not re-vamped her image as well as the music’s image. In my heart, I wish the old style stayed and maybe even got a bit darker because that was what excited me, mostly because it felt real. Today, this band is as skilled and strong as ever, but the meaning in my eyes and ears has faded, as if I were watching Lady Gaga give her 60,000 performance to where she must be bored enough to just go through the motions. This is what sells and there is nothing wrong with wanting that feeling of accomplishment, however it can be obtained. The question remains, is this the direction the band seems to be running with the extent of the emotion now? That vulnerable young girl I was inspired by seven years ago seemed to have much more to say and express than the more modern simplistic message of the 2016 album titled ‘Never Alone’. Sometimes, being too comfortable in your own shoes can raid your creative impulses and tone down the key to the soul.
For a Monday night, it was well-spent overall, and having a cohesive lineup was the first blessing, with the second being the venue because of its decent stage size, light and sound board set up, comfortable atmosphere, large restrooms, along with the full outdoor patio to occupy the down time and goth versus emo people watch. If you are into pretty girls with strong pipes and depression-curing messages, go see Stitched Up Heart on tour so you can keep the female-fronted rock music scene alive.
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