Photo Credit: Natasha Drewnicki
I love rock & roll. As did Joan Jett. And The Jesus & Mary Chain. They also claimed to hate it as well, but that was just a lover’s tiff. You get the idea. There’s something primal, something sexual about squashing into a small, sweaty space and watching guys and galls in tight denim and leather strap on a guitar and strut their stuff. It’s been fuel for the fire since The Beatles and The Stones first swaggered all over America. Us, them, six strings, and this amp, a meeting of minds and spirits that no end of fancy, beam-it-straight-to-your-laptop / iPhone / cerebral cortex experiments will replicate, despite recent efforts to prove otherwise.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Washed Out isn’t rock & roll. Nor does he claim to be. And yes, many genres of music thrive with nary a guitar in sight. I don’t disagree. But many of those styles were, or are, tied to specific time and place – not to mention mindset – such as the middle of the night in a field in Hampshire. Increasingly, modern alternative and indie music sees groups hitting the road not with a grizzled, veteran guitar tech, but banks of anonymous black boxes and several IT experts. This was painfully apparent as Chad Valley takes to the stage, with only one – albeit rather large – box for company. He’s really very good, with surprisingly sweet vocals and some neat looping tricks, but it’s not much of a spectacle. At times, even he looks a bit uncomfortable as he pokes at buttons under our watchful gaze and it probably doesn’t help that, save for ‘Now That I’m Real,’ most people seem unfamiliar with his work.
That’s not a problem for Ernest Greene, who also somewhat alleviates the spectacle problem by bringing a band. There’s a bass player, an actual drummer, and two other, shall we say, multi-instrumentalists, who prod away at a variety of synths, samplers, and even an iPad. Starting with ‘Hold Out’ and ‘Echoes’, they immediately establish a slick groove, something that’s carried neatly into ‘New Theory’. The live rhythm section helps keep them tight and focused, and does justice to the more expansive sound found on ‘Within & Without’. Less successful are attempts at more soulful numbers, such as ‘Soft’ and ‘You & I’, which just sound plodding and aimless, something not helped by thin, anaemic vocals.
Throughout, Greene seems confident and upbeat, even engaging in some friendly banter, and coming from someone who once claimed he never wanted to tour it’s a remarkably proficient performance. He’s yet to work out how to satisfactorily replicate the woozy, layered, singing which sounds so good on record but, when the band really go for it, as on ‘Feel It All Around’ and closer ‘Eyes Be Closed’, it just about works. One can even overlook the worst ever cover of ‘Wicked Game’ – he just doesn’t have the pipes, and it sounds empty without that riff – and point to the hipsters dancing down the front as evidence of a good time had by all. It’s just all so… meh. It has no soul, no heart, and no sex appeal. It doesn’t make me want to master a loop machine. It’s deeply ironic that his album cover features a beautiful couple mid-coitus, as that’s the last thing on my mind watching this. Whatever you call this type of music, it has a time and a place, yes, but it’s not on stage, and not late at night. Some pioneers once sang ‘It’s only rock & roll, but I like it.’ So do I, and I miss it.