Four bands shook the walls of the Arlington Theatre Monday night for this year’s KjEE Winter Round-Up. The show was comprised of Metric, Tegan and Sara, Youngblood Hawke, and local band, Beware of Darkness. Some of KjEE’s DJs made appearances as well, introducing artists and pumping up the crowd. It’s always fun to see DJs in person (who knew Phat J really is fat? And he did a heck of a job getting you stoked to be there). The four hour event ranged from cool smooth beats that eased your mind to heart pounding rock that shook your core. Throughout the night, rock in one form or another, with catchy beats, transcending melodies, and unending enthusiasm, prevailed (as did head banging, hip swaying and the omnipresence of leather).
Beware of Darkness opened the show with what was, without a doubt, the heaviest performance of the night. The black clad trio began with an intense heavy blues rock sound that hardly ever let up. Lead singer and guitarist, Kyle Nicolaides, danced up a storm, exemplifying the infamous head-banging move that is forever intertwined with heavy rock, but with his own personal twist. He threw his head so fervently, so passionately, that BAM!—he hit himself in the face with his own guitar, giving himself a crimson, bloody nose to sport for the remainder of the song. He apologized at the end of the song and the band smoothly moved to a slower sound (perhaps so he could recover) as a steady, blood red light cast down on them. Whether this ironic lighting choice was pre-planned or a spontaneous accompaniment for the bloody nose, we’ll never know. One thing is certain, Nicolaides need not apologize for his zealous head banging that comes with a real passion for music—the crowd absolutely loved it. The band continued to hit home with the locals of the crowd as Nicolaides explained the origin of a song written about the Santa Barbara pier. The band also thanked the crowd and exclaimed that they were very excited to play at the Arlington after having grown up in Santa Barbara. They closed with their catchy hit “Howl,” which truly howled like an incensed wind through the halls of the Arlington long after the band left the stage.
Youngblood Hawke took the stage next with a fresh sound and hipster look. Lead singers thumped along intently with the drummer to fill the theater with a pounding beat that lead into their opening song, “Dannyboy.” Right from the start the band’s lyrical art was truly a gift to the ears as much as the soul. “Dannyboy” calls listeners to “wake up Dannyboy, there’s a world outside your window!” acting as a progressive Siren, luring us away from the stagnant all too familiar and into the world of the unknown. Lead singer, Sam Martin (whose charming face resembles that of Mick Jagger), stole the show visually as he danced around in polka dot pants and bright red shoes, shaking his long hair all around. Singer Alice Katz stepped it up during their second song, “Protect Yourself,” in which she truly belted it out for the first time and continued to rock the rest of the show. As their set went on, they further expressed their unique sound of transcending melodies with psychedelic elements. I found their hit song, “We Come Running,” to be even better live without the strong presence of the West LA Children’s Choir (who are featured during the chorus of the song), so I could better enjoy the singers’ pleasant voices. They closed with all six band members pounding to the drum beat in an exciting, extended outro, creating a unifying and satisfying effect when coupled with their intro. With their uplifting vocals and captivating melodies, don’t be surprised to see this band on the lineup for festivals like Coachella or Outside Lands in the very near future.
Headliners, Tegan and Sara, rocked the stage next with an outstanding performance. The beautiful identical twins are a trip to watch in and of themselves. They complemented each other nicely in nearly matching attire, both in all black with their signature, and often mimicked, hair dos (if fashionable mullet isn’t the right term, I don’t know what is). Members of the crowd rushed to the front of the stage from the very first song to the last. Tegan even noted with a grin that this was the closest they had ever physically played to their crowd. The duo played over a dozen songs including hits such as “Walking With a Ghost,” “Hell,” “You Wouldn’t Like Me,” “Alligator,” “Back in Your Head,” and “Feel It In My Bones.” The familiarity of nearly every song was a reminder of just how successful the twins have been, and for good reason. They were absolutely sensational. There is something so intrinsically pleasing about their voices (and not only because they are so similar that they complement each other with a powerful effect). They were full of honest contradictions that seemed to portray who they truly are. They sing softly yet forcefully. They were enthusiastic though also calm. They were literally identical, though also very different. Sara often closed her eyes, singing deeply with her hands linked behind her back while Tegan swayed and moved her hands energetically to the beat, repeatedly bringing her hand up to her heart as she sang (an act that made me feel as though I was truly sharing a meaningful experience with her). The sisters had an impressive amount of instrumental swapping. There were at least ten different guitars used throughout their set, each providing a slightly different sound and feel. While this performance was the most tranquil of the evening, it was by no means still. The sisters interacted with the crowd telling old stories and encouraging sing-alongs, shouting “don’t crap out on the second verse!” The duo closed with their new single “Closer,” with which they thanked KjEE for being one of the first stations to play it. “Closer” received exceptional cheering from the crowd who seemed to know every word even though it is a relatively new release. Their soulful demeanor and unparalleled synchrony made for a truly unique experience that delighted the crowd and kept everyone buzzing.
As the final band to own the stage last night, Metric truly shook the house down. The most visually enthralling of all four acts, Metric’s lighting and effects were mesmerizing. The set began with heavy blue lights and a gentle fog dancing about. A constant droning sound grew gradually as the band came into focus through the smoke ever so slowly. Singer Emily Haines stood out instantly, front and center with her bright blonde hair, and it was nearly impossible for audience members to take their eyes off of her from that moment on. All in black, she wore shorts and a studded leather jacket with gold fringes. Layers upon layers of gold necklaces shook on her torso as she danced around in delight. During their opening song she dramatically hammered on the keyboard as she danced enthusiastically, bringing one knee up at a time and kicking as she hammered away. The first song ended with an intense, extended bass that I could literally feel inside my chest, pulsing away at my heart (perhaps foreshadowing for their hit “Help I’m Alive” in which she sings her “heart is beating like a hammer”). As their set progressed, so did Haines’s wild dancing. “Speed the Collapse” brought about her steady head bobbing and her shoulders popped to the beat in “Help I’m Alive,” which led to a fist pumping in the final chorus that made the crowd go wild. Some audience members at the foot of the stage were so riled up they even had a brief mosh pit going (or as close to a mosh pit as Santa Barbara can come). Edgy lighting and strobe effects enhanced the performance and excited the audience more. While all members of the band contributed to the phenomenal performance, Haines truly brought the set from a show to a spectacle. Just watching Haines do her thing on stage was an experience in and of itself. Her appearance was almost that of Madonna, but she rocked like Alison Mosshart of The Kills. Her use of a synthesizer at times to manipulate the band’s sound sent me into a different time and space, only brought back to the theater by the incessant shaking of her bright blonde hair. Metric’s catchy indie-rock sound was smooth live as each song flowed naturally into the next. It was clear the band came to rock—they didn’t even stop to address the crowd until they were nearly ten songs deep! They closed with “Gold Guns Girls,” which had audience members dancing as eccentrically as Haines herself. With a long instrumental finish all members of the band got in their share of groovy head slamming and body shaking. Applause rang out from the ecstatic crowd just when I thought my ears couldn’t ring anymore. A thick cloud of smoke rolled over the audience and the final set came to a close. After a killer show with a bold blend of performers the audience left feeling excited, satisfied, and of course, thoroughly rocked out.