Veronica Falls Sweetly Pound Through Rickshaw Stop, 3/26/13
Veronica Falls at Rickshaw Stop last night. Photos by the author.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Better than: Being a punchline in a nasty Jello Biafra song.
When they aren't flirting with a death over some unresponsive lover -- which they do quite well, even if as a half-joke -- Veronica Falls ruminate over the same shit as the rest of us: their friends, the inevitability of getting older, exasperation at this awkward, mundane social life. Only they do it better. Last night at Rickshaw Stop, this London indie-pop quartet pounded through 14 urgent, delightful songs: sweet songs, sad songs, and lovely, catchy songs in which singer-guitarist Roxanne Clifford asks to be given horrible diseases and buried alive. (Out of love, of course.)
The point of indie-pop (whatever that means) was supposed to be that it isn't afraid to come off strange, uncool, or awkward in a way that non-indie-pop usually can't. Few so-called indie bands in this Urban Outfitters/Sponsored by Taco Bell age take their jangly guitars and three-chord hooks up on the challenge, but Veronica Falls do -- and with immensely satisfying results. They dare to be wistful and sweet ("'Cause you're a broken toy, it's true/ But I am broken too/ A broken toy like you"). Then they dare to be hopelessly morbid romantics ("Bury me alive/ I don't care if people cry"). It's like they never got the memo that simple guitar-based pop music no longer needs to bother with surprise.
Where Veronica Falls are almost never surprising is in their actual music, which -- last night as well as on their record -- is utterly straightforward: A speedy tempo, a few chords scratched away in downstrokes on two clean-ish electric guitars, the obligatory bassline, and drumming that rarely veers from a simple floor tom/kick/snare pound, never settling into a more complacent beat. The combination of every instrument conveys an unyielding urgency, a hurry that's almost punk and totally effective. (Last night, during "Come on Over," some kid tried to start a mosh pit. He misread the crowd, alas.) On top of this propulsion, Clifford, guitarist-singer James Haore, and sometimes drummer Patrick Doyle harmonize and sometimes sing in little mini-rounds, their voices slathered in reverb. It's a soft, pretty, slowish element on top of a hard, sharp, fast background, and the contrast greatly animates Veronica Falls' otherwise simple constructions.
Despite the group using this formula on nearly number, it did not wear out last night. The slightest variations made some tunes crowd favorites -- "Found Love in a Graveyard," "Buried Alive" -- and others to feel, at times, a little ponderous. (Such as most of "Come on Over," which would've been a flaccid way to end the main set, had the musicians not returned for an encore.)
This, though, was a sweet clamor of a set, from a band that has just put out its second superb album. After the musicians had climbed back onto the Rickshaw stage for the encore, someone in the crowd asked, "When are you guys coming back?" The response came swiftly from drummer Doyle, who quipped: "We've not left yet." True, but they were heading into the finale -- and indie-pop bands this enthralling don't come around very often.
Opener: S.F.'s own Brilliant Colors, who are touring the West Coast with Veronica Falls, played a more ramshackle version of uptempo indie-pop beforehand. Their half-muttered lyrics were lost to the din and the reverb, and there were fewer edges to be found in the songs. But having not seen seen them live for a year or so, we were pleased at their tightness and energy.