Thank God for the Alternates (or, I Take a Massive Dump on the L.A. Music Scene)

Having lived in Los Angeles for nearly four years, I’ve seen my share of local bands in the various clubs around town. And most of them suck. I’m not gloating here – I’m not really happy about the fact that a lot of local bands are absolute crap because I’ve often found this out by putting money in their pockets. I’ve seen the Blood Arm twice because they were opening for bands I like and I hate them more every time I see them. Their singer in-fucking-furiates me. When the good folks in Radio America swung out here in 2008 to play the Viper Room, I sat through two other bands that were absolute rubbish.

The other night, one of my two jobs had me sitting at the Roxy trying to drown my rage in seven dollar beer (in eight ounce cups. The Roxy is not the only club that does this. Folks attending Coachella next week will probably find themselves lining up for nine dollar cups of Heineken. But shame on everyone who does this. There is no reason – none – to charge people the cost of a six pack for half a pint of beer. It’s a dick move, and one that I’m sure clubs all over this country are wont to pull. To the Roxy’s credit, however, seven bucks will buy you a shitload of mozzarella sticks) while listening to some of the worst music I’ve ever heard.

The first band I heard was called the Graves and I’m pretty sure they were all freshmen in high school. Their songs were all middling pop tunes, somewhere between Vampire Weekend and a boy band. It was annoying, but they at least possessed a rudimentary skill at composition. I have hopes that, as they mature, the Graves might actually make some quality music. This is the nicest thing I’m going to say about three quarters of the bands I saw on Thursday night.

The second band was called Ostrich Eyes. They are a trio of women, one of whom is a kick-ass drummer. One of them, however, is pathologically incapable of tuning her guitar. She makes up for this by also being incapable of singing in tune. Now, I’m no great singer – I have about five to eight notes in my “range”, but I know what I should and shouldn’t sing. The singer for Ostrich Eyes seems to be going for this Sleater-Kinney/Breeders thing, which is certainly admirable. But Ostrich Eyes’ set was fucking painful on Thursday. Literally painful.

What followed Ostrich Eyes was a guided tour of pretty much everything that pisses me off in music, courtesy of a two-man outfit named Tangent Transmission. Now, I might be stepping in the shit here because Tangent Transmission’s singer is Facebook buddies with my boss and Bollocks! cross-posts to my Facebook page. So there’s a chance the guy will read this and get all pissed at her and/or me. So, if you’re the dude from Tangent Transmission, I ask you to bear two things in mind: 1) this is just my opinion and I’m just one guy and 2) I’m being honest. Get used to it. Not everyone is gonna like you. That said, Tangent Transmission seems to be all about how good their singer/guitarist thinks he is at the guitar (he can play a lot of notes, but none of them mean a goddamn thing), which is, to me, a symptom of everything I hate about the L.A. bands I’ve seen so far. I get that you need to have a stage presence, but if that’s all you have, I don’t want to hear your fucking band. Try writing songs! Tangent Transmission’s “songs” were lyrically repetitive and instrumentally masturbatory. I felt like I was watching a guy jerk off for half an hour. At one point, the dude even took his shirt off. And it can’t be because he was warm because, later, he put on a funny looking winter hat. I can’t abide shit like that. Not for songs as bad as Tangent Transmission’s.

So is there any hope? Is there even one band in Los Angeles that deserves adulation instead of opprobrium? I am happy to say that I have found one band in Los Angeles that I find very good indeed. And they played after the three horrible bands I’ve just mentioned. They are called the Alternates. I have seen them a few times in the past couple of years because their singer’s aunt is a friend of mine. The thing about the Alternates is that they grasp key concepts like “tuning” and “dynamics” and “melody.” You can tell, when you see them perform, that some thought has been put into the construction of their songs. By god, you can tell that they practice. Though they only have a nine song demo available (unless they’re sold out of them. I got mine for a couple of bucks at one of their shows) right now, it showcases most of their best songs (there was a great one on Thursday night called “Dreams” that is fairly new).

The Alternates are led by singer/guitarist Spencer Livingston who, I believe, writes most of their lyrics as well. Livingston sings kinda like Eddie Vedder did back when Pearl Jam was still relevant, but the Alternates’ influences are much more diverse than just 1990s alt-rock. Astute listeners will hear traces of Neil Young, Modest Mouse, and Radiohead in the Alternates’ music and Los Angelinos who are tired for the same posturing, tuneless bullshit from their local music scene will be richly rewarded for sitting through all manner of dreck to  hear Livingston and company (Tristan Esmundo on guitar, Kevin Solis on bass, Erwin Solis and Matt Walker on drums, and Jake Craven on keyboards, trombone, and upright bass. Yes, the Alternates have two drummers, presumably for maximum thunder) cut loose.  This is a band that is hopefully going places – hopefully faster than every other band in L.A.

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