There are good musicians, and then there are good live musicians. On Friday night, SLO brewing Co.’s stage saw plenty of good musicians — the “live” part, however, was questionable.
If you want your musical career to grow into anything beyond a bit of lionized nostalgia buried in your early 20s, being skilled in your respective instrument is only a small part of the process. Originality is usually step two, but I’ll come back to that in a second.
Night Riots — which headlined at SLO Brewing Co. as part of their tour to promote its new EP Howl — and openers Armors and Dear Boy all sit on different points of the musical journey. My optimism for each of them ranges from hopeful to pessimistic.
Maybe my too-skinny jeans are cutting off blood to my pretentious head, but I think I’m onto something here.
Orange County-based Armors bounded out from the red curtain lining the SLO Brewing Co. stage first. They included four preppy boys with sparkling teeth and a guy who looked like a Clerks character.
After the obligatory “What’s up, San Luis Obispo?” they leaped into their first song.
The Alt-J-inspired pop did more good than harm. Maybe it didn’t break any ground, but at least it didn’t start any riots or put a bad taste in my mouth. Next, Armors turned to their bread and butter (which is really just bread). Maybe they’ve just listened to too much Fall Out Boy, but the lukewarm pop felt about as safe as your pre-teen cousin who isn’t allowed to watch PG-13 films.
The doo-doo-doo-dees and doo-doo-dee-duhs felt like sounds someone would turn to in a desperate effort to fill the niche once they’ve accidentally listened to all of their favorite early 2000s pop band’s albums down to a dull nub.
Also, there was a ukulele for a second, but I digress.
Armors can play their instruments, but if their style has a total influence of, like, two bands, who cares?
Dear Boy was a slightly different story.
They released a dissonant guitar coupled with something that sounded like a didgeridoo. The unique sound felt distinctly post-punk.
At moments, Dear Boy had a hard time escaping the gravitational pull of Two Door Cinema Club. That said, some moments that were certainly TDC-influenced worked to their benefit. Dear Boy has largely mastered the sound that accompanies an indie rocker swiftly twisting his head left and right in paranoia. Dancy pop was supported by a full sound that was too quick to be shoegaze, but certainly brought a dense haze into the air.
Then came the band all the SLOcals were waiting for: Night Riots.
Under the fog and two spacey light towers, the bandmates took their spots on stage. Their faces, illuminated with light teal lights, resembled masks above their black clothes. For some songs, the aesthetic and sound felt original and complementary. Their single “Contagious,” for example, successfully pulled the electricity of M83, toying with the darkness of witch house music while remaining delightfully accessible.
Other songs on the EP carried that torch as well. “Oh My Heart” built itself on a sound sample that felt like a dark, united soccer stadium crowd while vocalist Travis Hawley brought us intimately close, “So close I feel you breathe in, ‘My kingdom come I am undone.’ Your eyes speak candid passions, ‘My kingdom come I am undone.’”
Other moments weren’t so bright for the Templeton outfit. For every moment they marched through the snow to create a new path, there was another of lazily stepping through the prints of someone else — namely The Killers.
Meanwhile, Hawley may or may not be developing a sort of Jared Leto complex. He wants you to know he thinks a ton about everything while maintaining a permanently cold, blank face.
The worst of it comes out in “Holster,” a medium-paced ballet that feels like a ripped B-side from The Killers’ Day and Age, which came out a whopping seven years ago. Talk about a missed train.
Maybe I’m just jaded. If there is something Night Riots gets right, it’s enthralling their audience. Following the show, Garden Street was buzzing with locals, nearly hipsters, drunk adults and a guy who wouldn’t let me borrow his phone.
Adrian Alvarez admired the band’s ability to swoon the audience.
“It was definitely the atmosphere,” Adrian said. “People were actually there for the band and stoked. It wasn’t just some group of people who showed up.”
Audience member Katy Johnson just wanted to see more skin.
“I was waiting for a shirt to come off,” she said.
In the end, the members of Night Riots have great prowess as performers. There’s even some creative talent in there, too. Their problem is that a huge segment of their music is the sound of throwing black paint buckets at an image The Killers might as well have trademarked. When they can escape the self-administered strait jacket, they could achieve greatness — or very-goodness, at least.