I learned a valuable lesson last night. Make sure you eat dinner before you start drinking with an Irish band, or else the following morning will be quite miserable. I want to thank the kind gentlemen of La Rocca, who helped contribute to my hangover that is currently plaguing me. The scene of the crime was the basement bar at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom, where they opened up for Phoenix last night. Playing in front of a sold-out crowd at the Bowery is definitely reason enough to celebrate, and celebrate we did.
I rolled over to the venue with just enough time to grab a beer, make a quick attempt to find the few industry-types that I was to meet up with, then make my way up front and center to enjoy their set. Although I have watched La Rocca perform a few other times, this marked my first time at a really good venue with great sound. Their sound and stage presence is that of a well-seasoned band, poised to someday sell out arenas rather than clubs.
In the few minutes I had before the band took the stage, I scanned the crowd to see what kind of audience had made the journey to the Bowery for these two bands. It is safe to assume that a majority of the room was there to see Phoenix, as La Rocca’s debut album doesn’t hit stores until August 8. This being said, when my Irish drinking buddies kicked off their set around 9:15pm, the room was maybe one-third full. Fortunately, about ten to fifteen minutes into their performance the people began pouring in.
The band is the quartet of singer/guitarist Bjorn Baillie, keyboardist/guitarist/singer Nick Haworth, bassist/singer Simon Baillie and drummer Alan Redmond. Three totally down two earth Irish dudes and one Englishman. These four musicians are some of the nicest I have met, completely anti-rock stars, which is reflected in their no bullshit songs. La Rocca has no flashy image, no gimmicks, they follow no current musical trends, it all just comes straight from the heart.
Last night’s set included plenty of potential hits off their forthcoming LP, The Truth. Bjorn belted out his throaty, whiskey-soaked vocals on “Sketches (20 Something Life),” a song that perfectly balances the two sides of this group’s sound – part timeless rock & roll, part smart pop. “This Life” combines Haworth’s Supergrass-inspired piano line with the three-part harmonies of the infectious chorus. I am a sucker for great live harmonies, and La Rocca nailed it.
Bjorn described “Sing Song Sung” as an Irish-Chinese fishing song. In one of the most bizarrely humorous moments of the night, the drunken Asian couple standing in front of me started yelling “YAY! CHINESE! CHINESE! CHINESE!!” I guess they were Chinese. When the band launched into this hit-in-the-making, the crowd definitely connected with this one, instantly causing heads to bounce and a few brave souls to dance. Ah yes, the Phoenix crowd was starting to warm up to La Rocca.
Although “Eyes Wide Open” and “Goodnight” were damn good, the highlight for me was their closing song, “Non-Believer.” Now THAT is a fucking hit. I don’t want to compare this band to U2, as that is just too easy, but this song has the feeling of something that big. The shimmering guitars, soaring vocals, catchy-as-hell melodies and heartfelt lyrics show that this band is the real deal.
After the show, I first ran into Haworth, who was manning the merch both. He mentioned that the band members had been dreaming of playing at the Bowery Ballroom for years, so they were thrilled that it had finally happened. We met up with the rest of the band back at the bar, which is what led to my current unpleasant physical state. Most of the evening was spent with Redmond, chatting up about living temporarily in Los Angeles, accidentally dumping mouthwash in the sink when washing clothes at their hotel, debating weather or not Guinness is truly low-calorie (depending on how many pints you consume in one sitting), and even working with the photographer responsible for the dollar bill on the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Yup, not the whole cover, just the photo of the dollar bill.
Redmond then mentioned that his fellow bandmates purchased Phoenix a bottle of Irish whiskey as a thank you for taking them on the road. As he was getting out of a cab, the bag containing the booze somehow collided with the taxi door, destroying the bottle. In a slight bit of panic, our new Irish drinking buddy was trying to figure out how to replace the broken whiskey, with no liquor stores in the immediate area. Fortunately, he was able to barter with the bartender, so the Frenchies still received their gift last night.
I missed most of Phoenix’s set, but hanging out with this great band was well worth it. La Rocca’s album may not be out until this summer, but you can snag a copy of their Sing Song Sung EP now on iTunes. I think it is time to sneak a nap under my desk to help make my beer-fueled headache go away.