Summer has definitely come to California and the June gloom has gone away, making LA days and nights a little more eventful and definitely more exciting. The promise and potential of a summer night could definitely be felt in the backyard area of The Echo on Thursday. Some familiar east side faces were in attendance (Pearl Harbor’s Piper) and some from even further east (recent Pitchfork darling, Worcester, Massachusetts’ weirdo disco king Dom) gathered to see Crocodiles and Dum Dum Girls. The two bands, along with a couple others, are leading the charge in a Southern California indie rock revival that both borrows from past traditions of surf rock and hardcore, as well as incorporating newer, weirder, chiller sounds into the mix. This renaissance has led to a lot of excitement in L.A., and out back there was plenty of recognition and high fiving among friends and acquaintances, everyone talking about how stoked they were for what the night was going to bring. There was excitement outside the venue as well. The show was sold out, but that didn’t keep a huge line of kids from forming, hoping for those elusive tickets at the door.
It might have just been early, the lights were still bright, people were still catching up, not enough beer had been drunk, but show openers Soft Healer and Dunes were not quite as compelling as their blog buzz and early releases had promised them to be. The crowd swayed along nonetheless, and even danced a little in the corners as Mario Orduno, the man behind ultra cool San Diego 7-inch label Art Fag Recordings, spun classic soul, surf and rock between sets. The well-curated selection set the mood as the lights came down and the crowd flooded in from the backyard, quickly making a last stop of the bar before the Crocodiles began.
Lit red and wearing matching black leather bad boy jackets, Crocodiles took the stage with the kind of energy and edge that has made boys and girls swoon for rock and roll musicians throughout all of history. The bands lead singer Brandon Welchez is skinny, fey, and extraordinarily commanding—gently thrashing around the stage delivering the band’s noisy brand of pop ‘n’ roll with a deep, warm, playful voice, easily rising to a high, heavy yelp at just the right moments. It’s the kind of music that only Southern California makes—the sound of reckless days played out under perfect sunshine, of how totally boring the beach can be when you see it all the time, of cars and bikes and Palm trees. It’s music made by grown ups who remember what it was like to be angry, scared, raging teenagers but have come to respect and even love the soft innocent California heritage of beach bunnies and girl groups, and it’s delivered in classic rowdy rock and roll style. Even when, after a particularly hard thrust of his hand knocked the mic, stand and all to the ground in a piercing screech of feedback, Welchez just kept dancing, not noticing until he turned around and found it was not where he had left it. The crowd didn’t mind the mishap either, as the usually horribly grating squeal was the perfect accompaniment to the youthful, energetic, no holds barred performance.
If Crocodiles had the California bad boy archetype down pat, headliners Dum Dum Girls were the exact female equivalent. Holding court at the front of the stage like bad girls always do in front of high school, the band launched into their short, riotous songs, somewhere between a growl and a purr, about romance, recklessness and being in love. Bandleader Dee Dee’s voice was much deeper than anticipated, a warm alto resembling Nico’s naughty girl croon, and she holds her guitar close to her body, beckoning the crowd while rocking like they’re sharing slow dance at a punk show. All three girls exude a brash, brooding sexiness, their all-black bodysuits shiny and dripping. Guitarist Jules has eye-covering bangs but somehow you doubt she needs to see, and bassist Bambi has a glare you can bet has broken some hearts in the late-night dark. The crowd—the men in particular—bounced up and down, threw their hair around and knew all the words to every song, coming to a near frenzy toward the end of the set when the band played the anthemic “Jail La La.” The band’s lyrics are both girlish and jarring, romantic and jaded, like a broken heart on a sunny day. Their live show had the same quality and was a perfect California contradiction—innocent and tough, each piece in all the right ways.