Photos by Harland Spinks
In a small, asymmetrical coffee house, tucked inside a large building on Broadway and 14th, it was one of those night when you make eye contact with everyone present at least a handful of times. It was one of those nights when the bartender assumes everyone who shows up early is in a band because, with a four-band bill, at 9 pm there are more musicians in the venue than fans. Though any of the last three acts could have been headlining bigger venues on a Saturday night, they gathered together at Oakland’s Awaken Cafe for the second stop of The Blank Tapes‘ ongoing California tour.
After Chicago-based outfit Zigtebra played the opening set, The Hindu Pirates from Huntington Beach offered the most surprising performance of the night. Usually a five-piece outfit, the band took the stage as a quartet without guitarist Casey Snyder. Maybe it was the their reserved demeanor, timid expressions or fresh tans, but I expected some kind of melodic synthpop. What they served up was reverb-heavy rock and roll with wicked guitar parts and a vocal performance by lead singer and guitarist Austin Ferreira that would work just as well in a stadium as it did in a cafe. It’s a distinct surprise, a mixture between amusement and amazement, watching a band unfold its full sound into something completely different, something better, than what you expected, and the raw, familiar tunes The Hindu Pirates churned out, sometimes leaning toward surf rock and other times flirting with psychedelia, got exponentially better as the short set moved on.
Echo Park’s Mystic Braves, formerly known as Blackfeet Braves (and for about a second, Mystic Rabbit), took the stage next. Making music in the vein of Allah-Las, the Braves know how to host a groovy dance party with wandering western riffs and its own fuzzed-out edge, carved out by the subtle tremolo of tracks like “Vicious Cycle” and the inter-playing vocals of guitarist Julian Dacatenzeiler and bassist Tony Malacara, particularly on songs “Cloud Nine” and “Born Without a Heart.” Between their smokey sound and idiosyncrasies–Tony playing a right-handed bass with his left hand, and the cool concentration of Shane Stotsenberg, whose guitar was resting so high on his chest that his hand, when positioned on the first few frets, was level with his head–the audience was decidedly split into those getting down on the dance floor and those steadily gazing at the stage.
Headlining the night, The Blank Tapes set the stage with a string of rope lights before kicking things off with “Tamarind Seeds.” Projecting its signature energy onto the audience, with lead vocalist Matt Adams in his focused, bended-knee stance, bassist DA Humphrey acutely bouncing to his rhythms in his own reserved but warm disposition, and Pearl Charles in a daisy crown and all her flower child glory, they urged the crowd to come closer to the stage, keeping it casual even through a persistent problem with DA’s amp.
While The Blank Tapes is largely the project of Matt Adams, it’s clear his muse and drummer is the centerpiece of the outfit. While most drummers surrender the forefront of the stage to guitar players, Pearl was positioned comfortably between Matt and DA, her glittery, gold drum kit catching the blue-hued lights. Dancing to her own rhythms, she glanced up toward the lights each time she sang, her eyes teetering in some vague territory between doe-eyed innocence and a knowing, mischievous determination. Even through the band’s performance of “Pearl,” she maintained a wonderful calm, not removed from the song’s sweet sentiments, but focused on exuding it instead of reveling in it.
As the band made its way through the set, spreading a distinctive California warmth with songs like “Beach Party” and a few new tunes, “Look Into the Light” and Pearl’s “Mind’s a Mystery,” Matt anchored his band’s breezy compositions to rock and roll with killer extended segments of licks and flourishes. His finesse with a guitar was palpable live, and the group’s more subtle elements, like its three-part harmonies, stood out in juxtaposition, particularly on “Coast to Coast” when the woozy, drawn out “ah-ahs” became shining moments among the track’s sunny lyrics.
The Blank Tapes have been on the road for the last few months in support of their 2013 LP, Vacation, and still have a few more California dates with this impressive lineup spread over the next two weeks. Check out the dates below and purchase a copy of Vacation over at Antenna Farm Records.
8/12 – Santa Cruz @ The Crepe Place ^*
8/13 – San Luis Obispo @ SLO Brew ^*
8/14 – Santa Barbara @ SOhO ^*
8/15 – San Diego @ Casbah ^*
8/23 – Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg Bar w/ Mystic Braves, Bad Weather California, Sauna and Skating Polly
^ – with Mystic Braves
* – with Hindu Pirates