By Chris Gedos
Races’ much anticipated debut LP, Year of the Witch, is a loose concept album about a uniquely difficult break-up, was released Tuesday, March 27th via Frenchkiss Records, with Friday night’s sold out show at the Echo serving as its official unveiling for their faithful Los Angeles following (which has witnessed Races’ steady rise to the top of the indie rock buzz list). It’s well deserved adulation; Races is a great live band. All six members are essential in creating a subtly dynamic, captivating and extremely successful live performance.
St Louis-based indie punk group The Living Things took stage before Races. The band brought a solid, MC5-style set, replete with yelping and a surety of purpose. They’ve got good licks and a wealth of political overtones – as frontman Lillian Berman is a sort of 21st century folk hero, having been shot at in Dallas and stabbed in the leg while crowdsurfing in Kansas City, so goes the Wiki-lore. Berman and his two brothers, Eve and Bosh, were joined by two female back-up vocalists, giving their music a beneficial, softening effect. Most were engaged in the set, with many fans there to see The Living Things specifically. They slayed it in no small part to their tremendous Matchless amps (keeping it local to LA roots).
As remaining concert goers filed into the max capacity Echo, Races began a lengthy soundcheck. The atmosphere was exactly as you’d want at a concert: a little uncomfortable and flooded with the smell of common humanity. I overheard some dude say, “This is the longest sound check!” They also had a long soundcheck when I saw them open for Caveman on December 8th, but I’d much rather have a band tinker around with their levels for a few extra minutes as opposed to not. To me it shows that Races takes great pride in the quality of their live performance. They’ve been touring incessantly for the past six weeks and this was to be a special moment within the Races’ gigography.
They played almost everything off of Year Of The Witch, (if not everything—the turnout made it difficult to keep tabs on a setlist), in addition to a previously unheard-by-my-ears cut for the encore. “Hey, we’re Black Jesus!” lead singer Wade Ryff quipped a couple songs in, referencing their previous band name. In all likelihood this was the tightest show I’ve seen since WU LYF at the end of July. And while both groups have concept LPs involving a loosely entwined narrative, WU LYF’s magic is centered on Ellery’s nebulous grunts; in contrast, Ryff’s lyrics are easily deciphered. The delicate arrangements and prominent backing vocals make Races’ live performance all the more impressive. It’s a very good album, but it gains a certain mystique when viewed within the context of their live performance. They dropped a cache of balloons at the end of the set, in reference to the “Big Broom” video, but that was only window dressing. Races doesn’t need to rely on gimmickry to deliver a powerful set. They’ve earned their buzz the old fashioned way.
Year Of The Witch doesn’t have those giant Tom Petty choruses or that same “epitome of a niche generation” appeal as an album like Funeral, but it’s not 2004 anymore. Kerry lost and indie grew up. It’s 2012 now, and Year Of The Witch is the most enjoyable and cohesive album the year has given us thus far.
Reviewed by b3