Show Review: Weatherbox, Chain Gang of 1974, and the Photo Atlas
Two local legends, The Chain Gang of 1974 and The Photo Atlas, joined San Diego’s Weatherbox Friday night at Club 156 in Boulder. Those familiar with all three bands will immediately notice a discrepancy; Chain Gang plays music that is decidedly electronic. In fact, much of their sound comes from an on-stage mp3 player that serves up fat electric drum beats and razor sharp synth lines, whereas the other two bands have a very late-90′s indie rock feel. As it turns out, Chain Gang singer Kamtin Mohager (who also plays bass for 3Oh!3) knows Weatherbox front-man Brian Warren from a trip to California some years ago. “We smoked pot on the beach and listened to music,” Mohager said of his old friend. While their style of music may be different, all three of these bands show exceptional talent and musicianship.
Take Eagles of Death Metal, cross them with Ladytron, and you’ll get something in the neighborhood of The Chain Gang of 1974. The name serves only as a moniker for Mohager, and he augments his live show with a changing assortment of musicians and technology. Synthetic drums played through a DJ-style mp3 player, and in this incarnation, both Mohager and his on-stage assistant played keyboards, bass, and guitars to fill out the songs. A larger crowd with more anonymity would surely have had more dancers, and as it was, the few who did shake booty were more than justified. His beats deliver the goods. That he isn’t more well known must be more a product of his schedule than his abilities. Still, there is room for improvement. More actual instrument playing on stage and some lyrical consideration could go a long way. Words clearly come second in the Chain Gang process, and the simple, repetitive phrases that serve as hooks are only cute to a point. If Mohager can muster the gumption to relinquish some control and pick up a smoking hot female to front the act, well, hold on to your keyboards Crystal Castles!
Despite being billed as the headliner, Weatherbox played second. The Photo Atlas will be joining them for a series of tour stops following the Boulder show, so it was probably out of courtesy that they let the local boys play last. Rock of this sort just doesn’t seem to show up much around these parts. The most immediate comparison I could draw was to Hot Water Music, but even that feels off. Mostly, they remind me of a different era in music. Think back to the days of Planes Mistaken for Stars and Texas is the Reason, when rock came in two forms: hard and hardcore. I felt like I was instantly transported back to the shows I saw in a barn as a teenager, where bands played when there was no place else to play. Granted my tastes have come a long way since those early shows, but I haven’t seen a band like this in over a decade. And just like those old days, the crowd stood mostly motionless while the band unleashed a fury of string-breaking, ear-splitting rock and roll. A few people danced and sang along, but for the most part, there was little fanfare. Even when Warren asked while tuning his guitar, “Do you guys have any questions for us?” the room fell
awkwardly silent. Yep. Just like the old days. Finally, on their last song, a friend selling merch and accompanying them on the tour came up to take over for Warren on guitar, freeing him to molest the mic stand and thrash across the already tight stage. It’s not that the music isn’t good, but shows like this are infinitely more fun when there are more than three people who actually give a damn.
When The Photo Atlas took the stage and people really started rocking, the atmosphere became considerably more fun. These guys have come a long way since I saw them at the University’s Welcome Back concert five years ago. Back then, guitarist Bill Threlkeld III played Fender’s lowest-end Squire telecaster and looked like he’d fit in at a LAN party. Nowadays, he has a kind of curly fashion hawk and rips through the coveted (and very expensive) Orange amplifier. Their success has clearly had its rewards. A stylist, a manager, and a budget has transformed them from an interesting local band to an act with national name recognition. They even have songs in video games. But they still sound like At the Drive In. Like, exactly. Which is great, because I love At the Drive In (rumors of a reunion tour have me regularly checking their myspace these days), and I never got to see them play. If only they could play a few actual covers (Sleepwalk Capsules, pretty please?), I could probably close my eyes
and for a moment and convince myself that Cedric and Omar et. al were actually on stage. Still, “No, Not me, Never” could be a long lost At
the Drive In record, and for now, I’ll have to settle for a close second.
Most surprising, aside from the six foot, 105lb blonde that could have been an extra on The Hills and sang every word while somehow managing not to topple out of her wedges, was the simplicity of their rig. Singer Alan Andrews Jr. doesn’t use any effects, and yet manages to get his Fender Hot Rod Deluxe to produce more rock than a Columbian cartel. Drummer Nick Miles said of his kit, “It’s just some Pacific shells covered in duct tape and paint.” Those obsessed with gear would do well to take note of what can be done with musicianship and will. The Photo Atlas keeps it simple: one mic, two guitars, a bass and some duct-taped drums are all you need when all you want is rock and roll. More than that just muddies the message until eventually it’s something else entirely (ehrm, Mars Volta?).
Leaving this show, my sentiments got me wondering. How long until we see a revival of those mid-to-late 90′s rock bands that influenced a generation of arm-swinging black-shirted show goers? I guess it’s already started with Sunny Day Real Estate back on the road. Cave In has a new EP out, and it’s probably not to long before we see more apathetic anti-hipsters now approaching their 30′s back in the venues more frequently played by world-beat Animal Collective imitators. This breed of sound has been in hiatus long enough, I think, and if Weatherbox and The Photo Atlas are a sign of things to come, I say bring the fire and lets rock.
Chain Gang of 1974
The Photo Atlas