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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Show Review: SIR SLY & Wolf Gang @ The El Rey in Los Angeles, CA.

Sir Sly has a new record out with this ghost symbol, which I saw stenciled all over Silverlake

Show Review: SIR SLY & Wolf Gang
@ The El Rey in Los Angeles, CA.

   This wasn't the first time I've seen SIR SLY- in February of 2013 I checked them out on a Monday night at the Casbah because that's what I was doing in those days.  Back then, I had heard from a friend that they were being managed by Monotone: managers of Vampire Weekend, Jack White, Dangermouse, The Shins, Ratatat, Foster the People, Cold War Kids but also Jamie Foxx and Jonah Hill etc.  Flash forward a year and a half and I've now been seeing an Artist manager at Monotone for a year. I often find myself in Los Angeles and will stay an extra day on either end to attend a Monotone band show in LA.


  I'm also increasingly interested in venues and crowd more than bands themselves, and the El Rey is a small sized theater booked by Goldenvoice (as of last year?) that has long interested me. It is quite fair and even obvious to say that my status as a +1 in the real world of the music industry has changed my perspective.  First of all, I've realized that to "those people" my status as a criminal defense lawyer is waaayyyyyy more interesting than any involvement I have with indie music and record labels.  Criminal defense lawyers are considered to be cool by most music industry professionals, indie record label owners are considered to be a joke.   There is nothing good or bad/positive or negative about that observation, it's just a fact, and it has led me to appreciate my first job as a defense lawyer.
Max McElligott is the main man in Wolf Gang, the English band, not the Odd Future collective

  So yeah, you could call me cynical or jaundiced, but I'm also a fairly astute observer of reality with personal experience seeing local bands go national and fail to go national.  I've spend and earned x amount of dollars trying to induce people to purchase music. I've read hundreds of books and watched hundreds of movies as a way to better understand the relationship between artists and their audiences.  And I realize that when I write about a band like Sir Sly, if I get 500 page views, 400 of them will be Sir Sly fans who have no interest in this blog.

  I didn't go into Monday nights show entirely cold, there was the aforementioned live viewing a year and a half ago.  Over the prior several days I had seen the ghost stencil at least six separate times on the streets of Silverlake and Echo Park in Los Angeles.  There is a billboard on Sunset as you drive towards Echo Park and Downtown from Silverlake.

 Openers Wolf Gang are an English act that share a record label with Sir Sly.  This show was, in fact, part of the Cherrytree Tour, and Cherrytree, a subsidiary of Interscope went so far as to SELLL Cherrytree merchandise at the merch booth. Calm down, Cherrytree. Of course, I support a label actually being ambitious enough to "sponsor" a tour for their artists, more power to them is my default attitude today towards expenditures by major labels on behalf of lesser known artists.  Like, "If they want to do it, great."
This is a view of the main floor at the El Rey from the balcony. It is easy to see the converted-theater prior usage in the size and layout.
What both bands shared in common besides a record label was Top 40 level upside.  Neither band is there yet (the capacity of the El Rey is akin to that of the Echo) but every song popped with layers of radio friendly hooks, sing along lyrics and enthusiastic performances from the band.  Wolf Gang had a generically English stage presence and it was impossible to peg them as being from any specific part of the British Isles besides "London."  I'm not saying they are not from someplace besides London, simply that they come off as being from London the same way that bands that move to Brooklyn from upstate Massachusetts might come off as being "from" Brooklyn.

  Their two million plus Last Fm plays clearly demonstrates that they are big in the UK.  The people at the show appeared to be either already fans or ready to be converted.  The soaring pop song structures were hard to miss even from the back of the VIP balcony where I was discussing Fantasy Soccer moves with my date's co-workers.  The concept of a band doing well in the UK and having a much smaller footprint in the US is so familiar as to be cliche.  Today was another good reminder of that with the re-issue of an Oasis record- a band that was literally the biggest band in the UK, who I saw play a high school auditorium in Oakland, CA. during the height of their fame in the UK.

 As far as I'm concerned, the quantity that separates the made-it's from the also-rans is a hit on adult contemporary radio.  Modern rock radio success is fine as a first step, but the economies of scale don't really kick in until you are charting on Adult Contemporary type stations.  So if you are talking about getting on radio, that is the job of the label, so that is on Cherrytree.  I wish them the best of luck on their quest for success.

  Sir Sly, being of Los Angeles-ish origins, were obviously stoked to be in front of the enthusiastic, hometown crowd, which was largely composed of well groomed Orange County type looking people. I sensed a distinctly female heavy audience, which is usually a good indicator for the potential for mass success (men will follow women anywhere.)  Several fans actually wore Ghost costumes to the show in what was either a spontaneous expression of genuine fandom or a clever marketing ploy by Cherrytree.  Either way it was impressive to see them down in front, as it were.

  Sir Sly was polished what was already a polished presentation in 2013.  The obvious comparison is with Foster the People, also managed by Monotone. The obvious comparison to make is between Landon Jacobs and Mark Foster.  Foster, of course, has written his top 10, cross-over hit, and Jacobs has not.  There were several songs in the set that could be candidates for radio play, but Jacobs compares favorably to Foster in terms of stage practice and energy, but less favorably in terms of vocal "chops" and poetics.  They clearly connected with what may not have been a total sell out, but was a well filled venue.

  The El Rey is very much a step up from the Echo in terms of it being a converted theater, but the location (deep dark mid city/Wilshire) and facilities are inferior to that of the Echo. The bathroom situation is risible, literally liking going to the bathroom at an old single screen movie theatre.  I am generally a fan of Goldenvoice and their staff, but was somewhat distressed by having to witness some kind of confrontation over a young woman smoking pot (I think?) in the VIP section.  Take that shit downstairs if you are going to do that shit to people in LA.

  Parking was 10 USD at a garage around the corner and two blocks BEFORE the venue if you are coming from the East Side.  The spots in the El Rey dedicated garage were small enough to make my Prius blush- make other plans if you drive a high end/big luxury type vehicle or park at your own risk.

  As always at these shows where I am a +1, I am thankful to the promoter and my date for inviting me. When you get right down to it, the main difference between "major label" and "indie" is the same as the difference between amateurs, semi-pros and professionals in any area where people try to turn a passion into a living.  Anyone who "hates" major labels and the professional music industry is living at the lowest levels of the amateur game or is, to a certain degree, a hypocrite.   The fact is that the ugly realities of the music business in 2014 apply MORE to the bigger players than the smaller, so in a certain way they deserve MORE support. 

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