Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

The Villains of Verona, The Alarmists & White Light Riot at Fine Line Music Cafe (Minneapolis, MN)

Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: , , .

Praising, “this is the best crowd we’ve ever had,” before continuing the night’s set, White Light Riot lead singer Mike Schwandt and his band were faced with a unique set of circumstance this past Saturday at the Fine Line Music Café. The night’s event was in commemoration of the band’s first full length album, Atomism, which was released this past Tuesday through 50 Entertainment. The surrealness of the evening however came not from the light show or the intense ovation of the crowd responding to Schwandt’s power chord mic checks, but rather it came as a result of the spectacle that the label had made of the band.

While walking down First Avenue, approaching the venue, it was unreal at the turnout of people who waited outside the venue long before the first band was set to hit the stage. But just as unusual as the level of the turnout was, so too was the makeup of the evening’s crowd. Easily distinguished by their 50 Entertainment name tags the bulk of the pre-show mob was made up of attendees who were treated to a listening party earlier in the evening. While the night progressively proved the venue’s 700-something capacity far too small a size for such an event, it wasn’t until after the night’s first set that both the audience size and interaction materialized.

On the advice of a friend I came to the show primarily to see one of the night’s opening acts The Villains of Verona, a garage-pop band from the Chicago-area. Holding true to the acclamation that had driven me to the show the band delivered a powerful exhibition of youthful vitality. Though the set was heavily driven by guitarists E. Hehr and Phil DeSantis the focal point of the performance proved to be singer Rachel Verona who thrust about the stage, harmoniously exercising her tambourine. The set was one of the many unfortunate times where you wished the band was given a better spot, or better circumstances as multiple times Verona unsuccessfully intimated that the crowd should edge closer to the near empty space in front of the stage. Despite the crowd’s unwillingness to comply the band continued its driven act which, as it winded down, unintentionally began sounding like the Noisettes, had the British band replaced its blues influence with that of late 1980s pop.

Minneapolis favorites The Alarmists continued the evening, opening for a much larger crowd which heavily favored its thuddish rock to that of the Villains’ nimble musical presence. Playing a well rounded set of favorites to the obviously enthusiastic crowd singer, guitarist Eric Lovold bounced about the stage with a Cheshire cat-like smile on his face throughout the entire. The night could have very well been billed as a co-headline show as the crowd basked in the well seasoned modern rock act, had it not been for the whole CD release thing. But despite concrete deliveries of some of the band’s best tracks, including “New Romans,” as the set wound down it became overwhelmingly evident that the night was in honor of one band alone.

It was only after seeing The Alarmists three times that my appreciation of the band began to develop and as such it may not be fair to be critical of White Light Riot after hearing them for the first time, in any capacity, at the show. The two sound akin to one another, with the both band’s lineups utilizing the same instruments and styles. That being said it was lead guitarist Joe Christenson’s likeness to Entourage’s Vincent Chase (played by Adrian Grenier) lead me to a strange analogy.

In the HBO series Grenier plays an actor who attempts to find fame in Hollywood. While striving towards a meaningful production, one which he can be artistically proud of, his breakthrough comes as in the form of a big budget commercial adaptation of the comic book Aquaman. While perceived as a successful role in the public eye Grenier’s character could only justified doing the movie as its success would then allow him to pursue roles honest to his vision; it was a means to an end.

The label’s about us page reads, “50 Entertainment strives to be the independent record company of choice for outstanding new artists. 50 Entertainment is comprised of highly successful industry veterans and innovative youth who have realized a path to stay ‘ahead of the curve’ in the ever-evolving music business.”

It’s unfortunate that even with such a mission statement the show carried little evidence validating its claims of an independent nature. Standing in front of me were a group of fans who multiple times screamed “I love rock!” and “Get’r done!” and unfortunately such reactions weren’t uncommon during the night. Common too were aging business casual types further damning Caucasian Americans as they flopped and clapped in the name of dance. And I felt it unfortunate for fans of the band at the show, honest fans who mere weeks ago wouldn’t have had to witness the band in such a frustrating environment.

Full disclosure: a few hours before the show began I unsuccessfully attempted to contact the label, hoping to circumvent the night’s price of admission. I did so with the hopes of saving a buck, but nonetheless happily paid to see a band that proved its chops during its performance; a band that sincerely appreciated the meager attention it was given. I also met members of White Light Riot before the show and was honestly taken back by Schwandt’s friendly accessibility given such an event. Hopefully this is just an overreaction and after hearing more from the band I will be able to appreciate. But as it stands I regret my cheap attempt to befriend the company because through all the spectacle the evening delivered, White Light Riot came to represent something strangely disappointing; Aquaman (but not as a means to an end).

[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]