Review: Warpaint @ TripodTweet
Review: Warpaint @ Tripod – 15th May 2011
Review: David Dooley
L.A. based Warpaint are an act I’ve been following with a very close eye since they popped up on one of NMEs annual lists of bands to watch. Since then they’ve released their first album in their seven years as a band, an album that although missing the immediacy of their debut EP has slowly grown on me. Arrived at the venue to be happily surprised that tonight’s performance would be taking place in the far more spacious Tripod as opposed to Crawdaddy, which for some reason I assumed it would be taking place. A minor detail definitely but one that I was quite happy with as it showed Warpaint’s growing popularity as on their last Dublin visit they played the smaller of the two.
Before the lingering dark psychedelic sounds of Warpaint we are first presented with New Zealand native Connan Mockasin and his backing band. Visually Connan would fall into the unusual category of Andy Warhol/Kurt Cobain hybrid with his band looking more the part of college professors than touring musicians. I struggled to find many people that seemed to be enjoying his set, a fact I would put down to his complete lack of interest in the performance. Even the band were divided on stage with the rhythm section clearing enjoying the gig more than the front-man and guitar/keyboardist.
The gig took a turn for the weirder when, for a reason that nobody bar the band knows, a Geisha came on stage to provide some additional percussion. To say that she stood out on stage would be quite an understatement with the contrast of western college professor/art school dropout versus the traditional oriental outfit.
After fulfilling her rhythmic obligations after just one song she remained on stage for the remainder of the set looking noticeably awkward and acting as an odd metronome for the audience by rocking her folding fan.
The bands sound remained with very straight rhythms with an unfortunate lack of melody. The drummer seemed to be subtly trying to propel the songs forward but was blocked by the frontman using obvious constraint. The disinterested demeanour of the frontman combined with a guitar player who spent a lot of the gig with his back to the audience only further stopped them from making a connection with the audience.
Not long after the questionable opening act had cleared the stage Warpaint make their very appreciated appearance. Opening with debut album b-side come latest single ‘Jubilee’. With it’s driving hi hats and constant bass drum ‘Jubilee’ is clearly set out as a well chosen opener, even if a lot of the crowd look puzzled at this new song. definitely a risky technique to open with a new song but all attending seem just as satisfied to have these four on stage and take in the new sounds.
The band appear on stage flanked by Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman playing Fender Jaguar and Musicmaster respectively, both common staples of the early 90’s grunge scene. When combined with their thrift store styling of the quartet appear as though they’d be far more suitable to 1992 Seattle rather then their sunny 21st century Los Angeles base.
Following up what could be called their misjudged opener we’re given ‘Warpaint’. It’s choppy drums and seductive vocals lead the swaying crowd through it’s meandering rhythm’s with it all peaking on it’s final lyric “Tight as a knot I want to fade” leading into the first of many after song jams.
Next up is ‘Bees’, started by some slick drumming and swiftly followed with some tasteful chords on the bass. At this point I should point out the quite ridiculous place from which I was observing the gig. I was so close to the speaker at the side of the stage that I could rest my arm on it, only going to show how this band are growing that this was the only decent place I could stand besides the bar at the back. Being this close however did have it’s advantages.
The winding drum intro had singer Emily Kokal awaiting her cue to join in, during which time one of the girls I arrived with was able to walk up to the stage and give her a bracelet. The bracelet was gracefully accepted and swiftly given a new home on the singers wrist.
Roughly this point in the performance I began to notice how the gig was beginning to resemble a communal religious gathering with Warpaint at the centre of this spectacle. Everything from the smoke, to the huge amount of reverb, to the quartet communally chanting the lyrics, all eyes closed in some form of musical worship all the while the crowd swaying in unison.
‘Undertow’ follows with a slightly slower pace giving this sold out crowd the first striking sing along of the night with the band continuing their multiple harmonies. Once again with ‘Undertow’ the band break loose and slip into another small jam at the end. The between song crowd acknowledgements have the band sipping wine, quite a change from the usual beer preferred by most of their contemporaries.
The biggest reaction from the crowd so far comes not from anything musical but when singer Emily Kokal removing her sweater that she was toying around with for the previous few songs. The reaction is not surprising given the large male presence in the room and the rarity of all girl alternative rock quartets.
Moving back into sing along territory with ‘Billie Holiday’ we see Jenny Lee lose her bass to focus on vocal duties. Not a bad move as the absence of her chorus effect drenched Rickenbacker instantly gives the song a different pacing to any that have gone before.
One of my personal favourites ‘Majesty’ was up next with the bass once again being reinstated after its ‘Billie Holiday’ break. Kokal giggly informs us that ‘Majesty’ is their breakup song, quite a fitting fact given that the majority of their songs centre around relationships, the band were formed on Valentines Day back in 2004.
Album opener ‘Set Your Arms Down’ has things shaken up again with drummer Stella Mozgawa trading her sticks for strings and guitarist Theresa Wayman taking over rhythm duties for this number. Both girls hold up very well in their new musical roles with Mozgawa clearly enjoying the extra freedom when not surrounded by drum equipment and kept to the drum stool. Guitarist Wayman does a more than capable job of holding ‘Set Your Arms Down’ together.
If there’s one word to describe Warpaint tonight it would be atmosphere. Both visually and sonically. They spend the majority of the gig half submerge themselves with clouds of smoke and sonically with their extensive use of reverb that surrounds their careful harmonies
The band once again comfortable with their on stage abilities begin ‘Beetles’ with a delay induced intro. ‘Beetles’ is defiantly one of the highlight tonight taking full advantage of both guitarist’s vocal abilities. The song gathers far more momentum than any that have gone before it with its propelling drums and sixties styled lead vocal melody. Wayman’s style of vocal delivery is more direct than that of her bandmate which lends itself to a punchier song.
It’s with ‘Beetles’ big breakdown that all of Tripod; band and audience truly let go, moving from the subtle swaying to what can only be described as careful moshing. ‘Beetles’ long bridge sees Kokal take the song back into the more lingering of Warpaint’s moods but it’s sharply snapped back into gear when the tempo kicks right back up and Wayman taking over lead duties once more.
Returning alone to the stage after the encore is Emily Kokal to add to the bands short setlist that now stands at nine songs. Thankfully this stripped down performance of ‘Baby’ comes across exactly as intended with her voice rendering the entire venue silent. The communal ritual feeling of the gig is only further emphasises when looking around to a crowd who are largely branded in their own warpaint of two horizontal stripes on each cheek. This act spread across the ground floor very quickly and within minutes stranger Lauren Feeney has marked this corner of Tripod for anyone willing to have their warpaint applied, myself included.
‘Elephants’ brings this very short set to a close but granted the band have been around since 2004 and only have a single album and EP released they are hardly in the position to cherry pick from an extensive back catalogue.
Since the addition release of their debut EP ‘Exquisite Corpse’ and their debut album ‘The Fool’ Warpaint have been going from strength to strength so here’s hoping that they have no problems with second album syndrome and return to these shores as a late addition to one of our many festivals.