Live Review: Empires with Cold Fronts at DC9, Washington DC – 15th November 2014

By on Tuesday, 18th November 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

Here’s something that doesn’t happen everyday. Well, for this music editor anyway. Somehow, on Saturday night I went to hole in the wall DC9 to see two bands that were both…wait for it…American. And the opening band Cold Fronts aren’t even from that far away at all. I learned after the show that the Philadelphia foursome were playing an outdoor generator show at SXSW 2012, unaware that Warner Brothers / Sire Records bigwig Seymour Stein was on the sidelines, taking notes. They’re now signed with Warner. So you budding musicians out there, dreams do come true.

But you’re probably wondering what they sound like, aren’t you? Admittedly, I didn’t do a huge amount of research for this show, deciding that since it was a Saturday night, I was going to relax, open my ears and take it all in. This worked especially well with Cold Fronts, as their performance was every bit about the music as it was about having fun. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the members of a band jumping around with their guitars without abandon and really, only two bands came to mind: the Cribs and PAWS, both featuring insane guitar players happily throwing themselves around the stage. I wasn’t far off the mark at all: singer/guitarist Craig admitted to me that he’s a massive fan of the Cribs, as well as PAWS’ track ‘Sore Tummy’. (Hey hey, Jarman Brothers, I hope you are listening? Because I just found out they have the same booking agent as you. Google them and sort out an opening slot for them on your next tour.)

The meteorological term ‘cold front’ usually indicates changes in barometric pressure and temperature and possible precipitation. Not usually a harbinger of good things. However, don’t let Cold Fronts’ name put you off; I was told the name comes from the fact that many of their songs were written during the winter months as an attempt to battle seasonal affective disorder. Their newest single ‘Hit Me’ (stream below) is a great example of a song to knock you out of the wintry weather doldrums: the chorus uses a clever metaphor between gambling and relationships, and the entire thing is just so darn catchy and the lyrics are easily sung along to (but they’re really witty lyrics too) that I’m almost positive it’s going to be a radio hit in due course. You heard it here first… Another one of their songs whose name I did not catch was punctuated by what appeared to be each of the four band members racing each other to see who could play the loudest and faster. This is some band with muscle! An album should be on its way in 2015.

Chicago’s Empires spent the last 6 years like all other bands: working hard. This year though the band released their third studio album ‘Orphan’ on Island Records’ Chop Shop imprint. Hopefully this LP will prove to be the breakthrough they’ve been looking for. John reviewed their EP ‘How Good Does It Feel’ this summer and he had described their bass lines reminding him of the Vaccines. However, upon actually seeing them play live, they recalled for me not the Vaccines but a couple of massive bands from recent memory. Their musical style is of the bombastic rock variety: think U2, when they were actually good, ‘Joshua Tree’-era and before they started to suck, and the Killers before Brandon Flowers’ ego inflated beyond reasonable proportions.

There’s even hints of Springsteen and ‘The ’59 Sound’-era Gaslight Anthem in the driving ‘Keep It Steady’, one of the set’s standouts from their 2012 album ‘Garage Hymns’. Heavy-hitting percussion? Check. Epic guitars? Check. I thought it didn’t exist anymore, but it’s clear Empires are the sound of 21st century American rock ‘n’ roll, and it couldn’t sound better. You also can’t escape being mesmerised by frontman Sean Van Vleet; he goes sans instrument during a show, except for occasional tambourine banging, something that his light-haired, stubbly doppelganger Ricky Wilson also indulges in. The band tell me they actually supported Kaiser Chiefs before in their hometown of Chicago but at the time, Wilson was wearing a hat and therefore no physical comparisons could be drawn. Van Vleet’s baritone is similar to that of Matt Berninger’s and also to some extent Tom Smith, but Empires are nowhere near as gloomy as Editors. Which I think is a good thing for American audiences.

What’s even more startling is while they might not be household names yet, this band already appear to have an army of fans: wearing flannel over their Empires’ emblazoned t-shirts, these girls were quick to solidify their places down the front even before they took the stage. These were also the same audience members who sang back the lyrics of ‘Spit the Dark’, from the band’s self-released debut album from 2008, ‘Howl’, word for word back to Van Vleet while he pointed the mike in their direction, with the refrain “I will guide you in the night” repeated back and forth between singer and crowd. For this to happen at a place like DC9, that’s dedication. Dedication I fully expect to see repeated on a much larger scale sometime in the near future.

After the cut: Empires’ set list.

Empires’ Set List:
Hostage
Shadowfaux
Please Don’t Tell My Lover
Honeyblood
Silverfire
Keep It Steady
Journey Kid
Spit the Dark
How Good Does It Feel

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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