The stage was set for The Sounds performance to be a good time. The lineup was everything you could ask for in terms of glamorous, retro-influenced rock and the Warfield provided a super-luxurious backdrop for the whole thing. Semi Precious Weapons, Shiny Toy Guns, and Foxy Shazaam: the names of the opening bands alone spell out a party. With all the talent and fun onstage, however, a little something was off about the night.
Generally, one expects the crowd at rock shows to mirror the overall style and energy of the bands in the lineup. Given the excellent fit of this colorful group (and the setting) I expected it to be pretty much hipsters and gays. Not the case! For the most part, attendees were a less fashion-conscious, more mainstream group heterosexual couples. Sure there were a few punk kids here and there, a few groups of young ladies dressed to the nines for a Saturday night out. But overall, it was a pretty bland audience. I reserved judgment until I saw them on the floor, and some of them did dance. It was a strange and rather unexpected group, however, and I couldn’t help but wonder if The Sounds’ popularity has finally reached a wide American audience. I also wondered if the price had something to do with it. At $25 and up, these tickets did not come cheap. Good thing the music (for the most part) delivered.
Semi Precious Weapons is a rather startlingly good rock outfit from Brooklyn, NYC. Startling both because their live performances literally startle and because for all the emphasis they put on theatrics, in the end they are a group of highly talented musicians. Their music is grittier than their looks or lyrics would suggest and showcases the individual skills that make them such a successful group. It’s that glamor with a bit of an edge that made them such a perfect fit for the bill.
The Shiny Toy Guns, is similar, as it’s impossible to not give them credit for their well-crafted electronic sound meets hard-rock sound and captivating use of the stage. They, of course, finished their set with their low-key electronica cover of “Major Tom”, originally recorded by Peter Schilling in 1983 (in German). You might have heard it in a Lincoln commercial if you’ve watched TV at some point ever. The song has a whole new surge of energy when performed live and was a great way to set the stage for the main act of the evening.
Peter Schilling: “Major Tom”
The Sounds are one of those bands that I can honestly say put on one hell of a show in spite of their music being kind of mediocre. Everything that I’d heard about lead vocalist Maja Ivarsson being a total fox on stage was proven right. Her above-and-beyond showmanship added an energy that was a little bit lacking in the music itself. The Sounds’ first album, Living in America, was a fairly strong representation of what can happen when contemporary New Wave is done right: just enough synthy keyboards and high-energy bass lines mixed with a touch of rock edge to balance it out, and a bit of something weird that’s hard to pinpoint.
They can’t help, of course, drawing numerous comparisons to Blondie (Maja looks more than just a little like Debbie Harry if you’re not looking too closely) and their music has a similar “is it punk or is it pop” vibe. While those characteristics are still true of their newest release, Crossing the Rubicon, something was missing. The songs performed were mostly from the newest release and didn’t seem as memorable, daring, or complex as their previous work, something that was evident whenever they played a song off another album. That said, both the crowd and I were too wooed by Maja (in leather hot pants, smoking a cigarette) and the boys dancing around, switching instruments, and storytelling to complain. While The Sounds might not have put out their best work with their latest release, they shouldn’t be written off as a one (or two) hit wonder. With that level of intensity and sexiness, they’re bound to put out something that’s worth a listen again.