Aside from sound problems and Courtney Love, a band’s worst nightmare is being upstaged by the one opening for it. That was the threat Delta Spirit faced when it took the stage at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom just moments after Ezra Furman & the Harpoons concluded its thunderous punk-folk set. Yes, they were that good.
(For reference, the last time I saw the opener upstage the headliner was LCD Soundsystem’s opening set for Arcade Fire at Randall’s Island in 2007.)
Of course, as anyone who has seen Delta Spirit over the last three years can tell you, the San Diego-based indie outfit puts on a live show like few others, highlighted by an all encompassing sound that grabs, twists, and dances around your mind from the set’s opening chords to the final feedback. Prior to last night, I’ve been fortunate enough to partake in such an experience twice — first in the basement of the Knitting Factory all the way back in 2008 and then at the 2009 edition of the Bonnaroo Music Festival. (I also heard them play from outside of Cedar Street Courtyard last March. Yes, South by Southwest lines suck.)
Turns out the third time once again wasn’t the charm. It wasn’t Delta Spirit’s fault, however. Instead, I blame what may be the most disrespectful crowd I have ever encountered in my concert attending history. It’s hard to become fully engaged in a Delta Spirit show when one person uses the first four songs in the set to engage in a full blown conversation or dance as if they’re screaming, “Hey, look at me, I’m at an indie rock show!” Or, when you’re standing beside a dude with an SLR camera, who was clearly there to shoot yet felt more concerned about pushing fellow audience members around in a “mosh pit” (remember, this is Delta Spirit we’re talking about) than actually, I don’t know, work… or even remain somewhat civil. In fact, these characteristics can be used to describe 75% of the individuals around me. No one seemed to care that a band, not to mention one of the more talented ones currently around, was performing a ferocious set right before their very eyes.
So, again, it was a bit hard to become engaged in the band’s show, let alone actually pay attention. But try I did and here’s what I took away from the evening:
— Frontman Matthew Vasquez has evolved into a full-blown star on stage, going from a man who said little more than “Thank you” after each song to an engaged on stage leader who has clearly been watching quite a few Bruce Springsteen and James Brown YouTube videos. He told stories – namely a vivid one about doing acid at the age of 16 – and willingly went into the audience to lead a group sing-a-long on the song “Motivation”. In a Springsteen sort of way, it was hard not to feel like he was speaking to you and only you, performing like a mad man on acid just for you, teaching you the correct way of having fun at an indie rock show.
— The band itself has emerged as masterful machine of sound, fusing elements of Brown, Kings of Leon, and Tom Waits into one healthy yet dirty style. The set, which was weighted heavily in new material, was dynamic and potent, pushed by the masterful guitar work and the grit of Vasquez. History From Below standouts like “Bushwick Blues” and “St. Francis” proved to be equally potent live, while the band’s older material — namely “Trashcan”, “Children”, “People C’Mon”, and “Motivation” — are more powerful than ever. You can especially thank Vasquez’s aforementioned man on acid-like performance for this.
– Perhaps this is just my 3AM mind thinking, but, upon watching the band pound through its 15 song set, it became rather obvious that this was a much different band than what I first saw in a basement three years ago. They are now cool, confident, and, most importantly, accessible, a trait not often found in today’s prototypical indie band and which might possibly lead Delta Spirit to emerge as a mainstream crossover one day. The next Kings of Leon, maybe? Crazy for sure, but all they really need is their version of “Use Somebody” and a dedicated fanbase and the rest will take care of itself.
I can’t say this was the best Delta Spirit show I’ve ever been to, but I can say it was the most talented Delta Spirit I have yet to see. Next time, hopefully that girl who wouldn’t shut up and the guy with the camera will take notice of this glaring characteristic and give the band its full blown attention. Better now than when you’re paying $50 to see them from the back row at Radio City.
People Turn Around