The Foundation Room upstairs at The House of Blues on Sunset continues to provide a terrific venue for up and coming bands. A couple of Saturdays back I dropped in with friends to see what was new and interesting and couldn’t believe the pleasure my ears were receiving at the beats and barre chords served up by Xs and ARROWs. It had been a long time since I had last experienced a new band, playing music I had never heard before and found myself enjoying as if all of the songs were well known favorites. But that is exactly what was served up to a room full of at first attentive, then appreciative and finally dancing, jumping and hollering music fans. Somebody (or somebodies) in that band know(s) how to write music and lyrics that work as entertainment and powerful pieces of personal expression.
The question I hate most (following the emergence of any style of music that was genre-fied past ‘post punk’ or ‘anti-folk’) is, “What kind of music is it?”. Ever since jazz loving jam bands started including banjos and a blue-grass punk band covered Snoop Dogg’s ‘Gin and Juice’ I have arbitrarily reduced the number of categories I use to classify music down to two: music that tells the truth about something (anything really) and music I would call ‘other stuff’. Xs and ARROWs produces the kind of music that takes a look at life, love and everything else art can explore in the 2nd decade of the 21st century.
The first thing that either catches my attention or doesn’t with any new group is the music – and Xs and ARROWs, right out of the gate, demonstrated that necessary but seldom achieved capacity, possessed by the best of bands, to make you notice and surrender to not only what all the instruments were doing collectively but to recognize and to experience (and to even live a little bit within) the spaces in-between the sounds the players are each making. The good composers and the good players all understand that concept. The Beatles and the Stones did it. Joe Jackson did it better than most. The Who turned a trio into an orchestra by understanding space and silence every bit as well they employed the sonic assault of a Gibson through a Marshall stack. Whenever in the writing and arranging process the decision was made, Xs and ARROWs got it that light and darkness, motion and stillness, sound and silence are all at their best when used in conjunction with, and juxtaposed against, each other. But actually the first thing that caught my attention about Xs and ARROWs was that they took the time to put a rather nice piece of cloth over the obnoxious television monitor that is mounted behind the stage. Nice touch! (Note to other bands and artists: The stage is your world and your platform from which to rearrange ours – make it as you like it.)
This is a band of talented and tasteful players. Vocalist Stevi Daft is one of those artists who never, ever lets you forget that she’s the right singer, this is the right song and you are in the right place. How she did that across a whole set of music and a crowd that reached from what looked like kids celebrating turning 21 that night to an aging and irredeemable rock and roll fan like me I can’t explain. Whatever combination of magic and skill that requires – she has it. The rhythm section of Pam Bluestein (dr) and Susan Peterson (b) let you know right away it was all about the beat. Their interplay felt as polished as session players and as serious and edgy as warning shots across the bow of the ship of life that you went out to try and shake yourself loose from anyway. Peterson’s playing reminds me a lot of Jack Casady with that deep full rolling sound that starts like a punctuation mark and then carries on like an aftershock. It’s worth the price of admission all by itself. Trading beats and spaces with Bluestein’s solid and meaty drumming I never once felt that existential boredom that often plagues my restless feet and pulse when listening to newer bands with less gutsy and aggressive drum and bass players. Courtney Lavender had the tone and talent you want from a guitarist in a three piece band – the sound that, when you’re standing out in the hallway or leaning on the bar in the next room makes you want to grab your drink and your friends and say, “Let’s go listen to this”. Depending upon the song she reached places by turns that felt imaginative, soulful and downright tough – and kept me wondering just what might be coming next. The bands harmonies and background vocals were also exquisitely written and delivered – adding punch or lovely sense of background contemplation as appropriate to the song and the moment.
The set of music they offered up that night was an excellent collection of material. Their songs brought you into the moment, then took you back a day, a week, a month, a lifetime – and then shoved you forward into an uncharted world of hopes and dreams, fears and longing – all energized by a band that felt comfortable working its way around a stage and a listeners deeper places of heart and soul. My first thought as I heard one of these songs after another was – “I want to hear that again!’ This Saturday night at 10PM I’m going to get another chance. If you have the time and the inclination to hear one of the best new bands in LA you should check Xs and ARROWs out for yourself.
For more information about the show and the band here is the link for the House of Blues: http://www.houseofblues.com/venues/clubvenues/losangeles/
Xs and ARROWs website: http://xsandarrows.com
Xs and ARROWS on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/xsandarrows