2015.5 – The best of the year so far: Best Opening Bands

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Winter @ The Echo

We’re halfway through 2015 already, so we’re kicking off a random series of lists detailing the first half of the year…

Starting things off, of course, are the opening bands. Photographing and reviewing shows means that I see A LOT of bands, some of whom I actually meant to see, but even more that I had no intention of seeing, and in some cases had never heard of. Often, this can mean a lot of time standing around bored at best, in agonizing aural pain at worst. But every now and then you catch an opening band that piques your excitement and makes you wanna go home and download buy some of their music. So here are a few of the more interesting opening bands I’ve seen this year, broken down by shows in chronological order:

The She’s/Phoebe Bridgers (opening for Best Coast)

Phoebe Bridgers @ Bottom of the Hill
Phoebe Bridgers @ Bottom of the Hill

This year’s NoisePop festival featured Best Coast playing a much smaller venue than they usually play, the fantastic Bottom of the Hill. Among the openers were two performers I’d never heard or heard of. The first, Phoebe Bridgers, looked like she just stepped out of a goth time machine from 1992: Pale white, platinum hair, dressed all in black. Docs (I think), tiny black backpack, some kind of black maybe velour coat/giant shirt. These are all good things, btw. But holy shit can she sing. She sounds more heavy folk/Americana than you’d think by appearances, and her songs just have a grandeur to them that’s largely due to her voice. None of her songs would seem out of place in a particularly plaintive scene of a mid-90’s movie soundtrack, yet they sound contemporary at the same time. She has a 7″, Killer, out on Ryan Adams’ Pax-Am label, and I highly recommend giving it a listen. I listened just out of curiosity after the show, and it blew instantly impressed me.

The She's
The She’s

San Francisco’s The She’s, meanwhile, played an infectious set of 60s-inspired, harmony-filled rock/surf/pop. They also paid tribute to the late Lesley Gore, with a terrific rendition of “You Don’t Own Me. Overall, just a really impressive set filled with catchy song after catchy song. Take a listen to their LP, Then It Starts To Feel Like Summer, and their most recent release, the Dreamers EP.

Bully @ The Independent (opening for JEFF the Brotherhood)

bully04
Bully @ The Independent

Nashville quartet Bully opened for their fellow Nashvillains back in March. They had a pretty sizeable portion of the crowd who seemed to be there specifically to see them, and since then they’ve only risen in stature, including the opening slot on Best Coast’s current tour. There’s a definite Pixies vibe in their angular guitar lines and jagged rhythms, as well as in their underlying pop sensibility. But the sound is also raw and bordering on feral at times. Their debut record, Feels Like, is out as of now.

The Minus 5 @ The Fillmore (Opening for Tweedy)

The Minus 5
The Minus 5

OK, this one is kind of cheating, as Scott McCaughey’s Minus 5 are a well-established and popular band, featuring an iconic guitarist, Peter Buck, in his main post-REM gig, and who could easily headline their own show if they weren’t opening for Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy’s band with his son, Spencer.

Off! @ Regency Ballroom (opening for Bad Religion)

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Off!

OK, this one is also kind of cheating, as Off! is fronted by the incomparable Keith Morris (co-founder of Black Flag, founder of the Circle Jerks), and who again could easily have headlined their own show.

Winter @ The Echo (opening for Luna)

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Winter

Always a treat when a band you’re dying to see doesn’t have an opener, but a close second is when the band you’re dying to see has an opener that you don’t mind standing around for. Such was the case at Luna’s first show in 10 years at the Echo in LA, as April’s band-in-residence Winter provided an appropriately dream-pop set to whet the crowd’s appetite for one of the godfathers of dreampop, Dean Wareham.

The Shivas @ Rickshaw Stop (opening for Ex Hex)
theshivas01

Portland trio the Shivas play, to quote myself, “a fun, rousing set of radiant, manic rock that at times veered into what one imagines “Northwestern surf” would sound like. It won’t be surprising if they’re playing bigger rooms (or at least opening for bigger bands) soon.” I stand by those words from four weeks ago.

Robert Schneider @ The Phoenix ([Petaluma, CA] opening for Neutral Milk Hotel)

phoenix-stage-empty
Empty stage of the Phoenix after Robert Schneider played, and before the notoriously camera-shy Neutral Milk Hotel

This is sort of a cheat for two reasons: First, I would have sat through any opener on the planet to see Neutral Milk Hotel’s supposed last show “for the foreseeable future.” Second, Robert Schneider is the driving force behind the Apples in Stereo (as well as one of the founders of the Elephant 6 collective), and I probably would have driven to Petaluma to see the Apples in Stereo alone. For this show, Schneider played an acoustic set, accompanied by bandmate John Ferguson (the duo commented that they go by the name “SpaceFlyte” only half-jokingly). It was also an increasingly rare performance, as Schneider is currently getting a graduate degree in mathematics. So NMH, and a mathlete playing insanely catchy pop songs. Not a bad night.

Jack and Eliza @ The Independent (opening for Hamilton Leithuaser)
jackandeliza02

“New York City electric guitar duo Jack and Eliza opened the show with a downright charming set of bright guitar melodies and harmonic vocals, occasionally touching on a melodic melancholy that one might describe as Walkmen-esque.” I stand by those wise words from two weeks ago.

 

 

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