Being a music geek can have its bonuses…especially when you’re at a radio event. While in line to get into the exclusive CHVRCHES show at the HD Radio Soundspace, a DJ hired by KROQ to play the event had a “Guess the Artist” contest. When I heard the opening notes to The Flaming Lips “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”, I raised my hand and won two tickets to Nothing But Thieves the following night.
Admittedly, I was not very familiar with the group, having only heard the couple singles played on KROQ, and not particularly drawn to them. Still, a free rock show that also included up-and-comer Grandson was nothing to scoff at.
Opening band Demob Happy were a throwback to 70’s hard rock culture and sound. The lead singer bobbed and swayed, the drummer took off his shirt, and every band member’s long hair fit in perfectly with the head banging tunes. While the opening songs were heavy and lacking in discernible melody, later numbers infused funkier base lines and some acid rock harmonies to counterbalance the stoner-rock riffs. The extra bit of boogie-woogie pleased the audience and gave the British band a good night in California.
Grandson has been making waves on the Los Angeles scene, collaborating with Mike Shinoda, and getting some love from KROQ. The ambitions of Grandson are grandiose – reaching for Rage Against the Machine level high-mindedness in his politically and socially conscious, rap-influenced rock. Grandson introduced each track with an explanation of the goal or message behind the following song, and one can not deny his sincerity and passion for the issues. Sonically, Grandson sounds closer to Twenty One Pilots than Rage, but that’s not to say there’s a lack of fire in the music. “Stick Up” had some excellent guitar work, and tracks like “Overdose” and single “Blood // Water” are hypnotic in their slow-building dirge. The group could definitely fill the agro-rock hole in popular music now that Linkin Park and System of a Down are unlikely to release new music. I also must point out that there was a 6-7 year old girl I a ballerina outfit rocking out to them at the side of the stage, which was equal parts cute and awesome.
While the crowd was more than welcoming to Grandson, they were clearly there for Nothing But Thieves, and showed the band a lot of love once they hit the stage. The English band’s influences are pretty clearly Muse and Radiohead, with a dash of Cold War Kids in the vocals. And much like those bands, the NBT showed a good range between hard-hitting alt. rock (new single “Forever & Ever More”) and soaring ballads (“Particles”, played beautiful as a piano acoustic). Singer Conor Mason, coming on stage in oversized overalls and sporting an androgynous haircut, has a voice that almost seems magically gifted to him. Who knows where it’s coming from, but it is powerful. While there was not much cohesion in the band’s wardrobe, as a musical body their playing was tight and on-note the whole evening. Some tracks, like their breakout single “Trip Switch” lost some of the intricacies in the melodies and guitar lines in the live setting, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind. Show highlight was the ballad “Sorry”, with its emotional hook having crowd members singing along as if they were at a church revival.
Overall, I left the show with a much greater appreciation for the band than I had when entering that night. Definitely a band worth seeing live.
Check out “Sorry” here:
Grandson and Demob Happy: