Jail Weddings

Brothers and sisters, bros and chicks, Californians everywhere! Let us lay down our arms and put an end to this silly fighting, for I have found a band worth uniting over. A band that transcends Northern and Southern affiliations; a band worth sharing joint custody of: Los Angeles’ Jail Weddings.

If you’re reading this, there’s a very good chance, from a purely statistical standpoint, that you weren’t at the Hemlock Tavern recently to see Jail Weddings start their West coast tour. At around 9:30 p.m., San Francisco’s The Better Maker opened the show to a scant 17 people (and a dog that wandered in from who-knows-where). After the crowd got warmed up with a set from them, followed by a thorough audio beatdown from Oakland’s brutal and bizarre Twin Steps, Jail Weddings swooped in, set up, and raised hell.

It’s true, Jail Weddings are from San Francisco’s southern neighbor-that-must-not-be-named, but their meticulously-messy appeal makes them sound more like something you’d find in New York. Or Detroit. In 1963. Building on a reputation of being a band that’s reminiscent of 60s pop styles, they’re expanding their musical horizons in 2012 — their latest EP, Four Future Standards, takes a more accessible approach, but their live show remains a stunning spectacle of sequins, shouted choruses and raw fervor.

Jail Weddings is known just as well for being almost ludicrously large. Nine people seems more like a reality show cast than a band, and in a gang that big you might expect at least a couple members to be unwitting pawns in what’s really a vehicle for a singer or guitarist with arena-sized dreams. But nope – every single person on stage that night, difficult though it was to move up there, owned their instrument. The energy in the room transformed around 11:30, when morose-looking lead singer Gabriel Hart took the mic and suddenly flung himself into a whirling, flailing frenzy on the floor in front of the stage, and did not once stop for the rest of the set. By this time, the crowd had expanded to an even thirty and the dog had disappeared, and JW played to that 30 as if it were Wembley. Hart, backed by the crowded stage of backup singers, guitars, a keyboard, drums and the unlucky violinist who was relegated to the alley between the stage and the wall, got down on the floor with the increasingly enthusiastic crowd, at times doubling over onto his mic to drive home his wailing choruses and flinging himself into frame when a camera was present. Jail Weddings spent the rest of the night plowing through authoritative selections like “Cheat On Your New Lover with Me” and “I Thought You Were Someone I Knew”, a rendition of their recently-released torch song, “Crying Girl”, and took a new one from their upcoming full-length for a test-drive.

The amount of breathlessness that went into the night, combined with the, shall we say, intimacy of the venue (plus the band’s liberal use of the organ preset on the keyboard), made the whole thing seem less like a Wednesday night diversion and more like a religious service, with Hart at the impassioned helm of it all. Like all true converts, the 30 people that were lucky enough to share in Jail Weddings’ divine madness are no doubt wishing they’ll visit again soon. Here’s hoping LA is willing to share.