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Low vs. Diamond @ Viper Room 11/2/2007

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What makes a great band? Is it the musicians, is it one or two personalities that drive the whole or is it the whole, the concept, that drives the individuals? Better yet, maybe it’s the performance that drives a band’s following.

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The individuals, the group or the concept may drive the band and all or some may make for a great show. I though about this Friday night as I stood among a wonderfully eclectic crowd of hipsters, Hollywooders and hedonists in the Viper Room as Low vs. Diamond tried in earnest to relay their message.

Now, what they were trying to say is a subject worthy of debate as I still don’t know. Nor do I know what people generally thought of the show for the LA quintet whose debut EP has gotten some love on the Indie 103.1.

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I heard a few songs from the EP some months back and was struck by the star-gazing patchwork of soft chords and steady, driving drum beats of songs like "Life After Love" and "Stay Awake." Struck, but not in the awe sort of way. I would call it intrigued with the hope that their live show would be a roving testament to the lush, landscaped songs.

It wasn’t to be, though. When lead singer Lucas Field sauntered on the stage and meekly opened the show with "Life After Love," I knew immediately that despite the head bobbing and dancing from a few, LvD’s live act would neither expand upon its sound nor translate to the crowd what exactly they were trying to do.

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It may have started when Field opened the show with one of the more eye-rolling lyrics I've heard in some time (“I still feel so much/Life, it’s not as high as love”). Or when Field asked the crowd three times in the first few songs if the sound was OK. (It was fine, dude. Leave it alone.). But, my mind started to wander, thinking about what makes a great live band.

Each song played was almost an exact replica of the album, which is fine if their music is enough. But, as most of their album songs exist in an ethereal, Sunday afternoon on the bed state, they did not translate live. By themselves, they weren't enough. They needed a shot of adrenaline, a Red Bull to boost their stagnate show.

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It’s not LvD’s song that get lost in translation (they sound basically the same), it’s the transformation from studio to stage where either passion, excitability or just talent gets lost.

Drummer Howie Diamond once said in an interview, "We were so used to playing LA where people just stand and stare at you and don't move. Our first show in the UK was in Oxford and people were dancing and cheering and going crazy.”

I’ve heard such LA bashing before and I refuse to believe it’s because we are more stoic or believe we may be better than those on stage. Los Angeles is the major leagues and if you, as a band, cannot move people it’s not the peoples’ fault, but the boring music emanating from the stage.

I take pride in Diamond's comments, actually, in that we aren't just going to dance and cheer just because we're so gosh darn happy to have live music. When we dance and go crazy, it's because we want to. And then you know you've earned it. (See: Arcade Fire at the Bowl.)

There was dancing Friday night, but most stood and stared. When Field sang, “This is yourself falling away/This is your life,” from "This is Your Life," I really believed it. I fell and could not come back. And did not want to come back.

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Part of the feeling may have come from Field’s gesticulations. Too often during the set did the lead singer try to infuse some energy into the proceedings by raising both arms and patting the air in lock step with the beat. Instead of having its intended affect of drawing me into the music, it made me think of a Rabbi telling his congregation to sit or a teacher telling his class to hush up.

Field looked bored and unmoved even by his own music and while he was telling me to shush up and sit down, I felt anesthetized. What’s one thing you need for a great live show? A lead singer with charisma and awareness.

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One of the great things about the Viper Room, is the light show that accompanies each band. The pulsating blues, yellows and whites drew me in, even as the flaccid music drove me away.

The light complemented the strongest muscle of LvD, guitarist Anthony Polcino. For much of the show, he was bathed in yellow and blue from the flood light’s above, which created a beautiful flash of color that was visually pleasing. Polcino did his best to raise the emotional level of the meandering show. He was smooth, harsh, thrashing and inventive. He stood out amongst a sea of melancholy lyrics and predictable measures, but could not carry the band on his back to a level of excitability. What’s another thing you need for a great live show? A creative guitarist willing to go out on a limb.

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LvDs EP is a promising harbinger and part of a whole school of shoegazer rock in which bands like Great Northern and The Foundry Field Recordings are proud members. But, selling albums alone won’t unlock the door to success. What makes a great live band? The ability to make people want to dance, to go crazy and the courage to play above your music.

Photos by Noelia Estrada via her iPhone.