Live Review: Two Door Cinema Club with Smallpools and St. Lucia at DAR Constitution Hall, Washington DC – 4th October 2013
When I joined up here as USA Editor of TGTF, one of the first albums I listened to and fell in love with immediately was Two Door Cinema Club‘s debut ‘Tourist History’. I got a sampler of it electronically a couple weeks before the end of 2009. As a music journalist, I don’t think that aha feeling of “they’re going to be absolutely massive!” ever goes away when you hear a recording that blows *you* away. When I received the full album a few weeks later, I was thinking to myself while everyone was going crazy over singles ‘Something Good Can Work’ and ‘I Can Talk’, “mark my words. It’s ‘What You Know’ that’s going to be the huge song off this album…”
Nearly 2 months after the album’s release in the UK, I got the opportunity to cover Two Door’s first visit to the Nation’s Capital, then supporting their American labelmates Phoenix. After the show, I found the guys talking to some new converts, but there were only two people in the whole place – myself and another woman – who had any idea who they were. That other woman was Cheryl Demas, who has since become a good friend of mine and now writes for us. I went to introduce myself to the band and greeted them individually by name; bassist Kevin Baird looked gobsmacked. “How do you know our names…?”
I handed over one of my business cards. He put two and two together: “wait! You’re the woman that writes all those lovely things about us!” This is how a friendship and continuing mutual respect between us began that continues to this day. When I’m in America, I rarely leave the DC area to see bands, and it takes a very special band to get me out of town; I did this for Two Door, seeing them play in the pretty small Johnny Brenda’s the following month, in May 2010, and I cherish moments like that night, being able to talk to the guys after in such a relaxed way. I miss the days of being able to see the guys and talk to them without them getting mobbed, but if me not seeing them after a show means they’re a huge success, then that’s one sacrifice I’m willing to make. They work so incredibly hard, it’s wonderful to see them do so well.
And doing well they are. About 3 and a half years later since I met the boys, they returned to the place where it all began – the cavernous, 3,700 capacity DAR Constitution Hall, where my high school graduation exercises took place – to play to the teeming masses of fans they have in this area. Before that though, there were two bands that had play warm-up. First was Smallpools, an indie pop band originally from New Jersey, now based in Los Angeles.
The first thing that struck me about them was how scarily their frontman Sean Scanlon looks like Husky Gawenda. Seriously, they could be twins. The band just released their self-titled debut EP in July and they’ve gotten a lot of love through the Hype Machine, so this was the perfect time and perfect tour really to get exposure to the American public. They have that bouncy, summery synthy sound that everyone is loving right now thanks to the efforts of Passion Pit a couple years ago, and the crowd ate it up. Look up their debut single ‘Dreaming’, the song they closed out their set with, and you’ll see what I mean. ‘Admission to Your Party’, a newer song, got my attention too. It should be a no-brainer that this band is destined for big things. (It’s unfortunate that my personal experience seeing them was marred by uncalled for hostility of a photographer who shoots for a noisome online rag that shalt not be named. Really? Let’s stay professional, people.)
The second support act was St. Lucia, who is New Yorker by way of South Africa producer Jean-Philip Grobler plus his live band. He’s actually remixed loads of bands, including both the aforementioned Passion Pit and the stars of this night’s show, Two Door. Think New Wave with all the synths and loads of things going on, but as should be expected by a musician whose stage name is also the name of a lovely Caribbean island where many Americans go on holiday to, there is a tropical bent. St. Lucia’s debut album ‘When the Night’ is out today in America but the UK needs to wait until next week to hear it.
Judging from the shrill screaming and shouts of “I love you!” that took place when Grobler and band took the stage and all throughout their set, the South African already has an army of fans. From the effervescence of ‘Closer to This’ to set closer and the song currently getting tons of blogosphere love ‘Elevate’, there are snatches of warmer climes and Friendly Fires that I can get on board with (no pun intended).
And then there was the band that needs no introduction. A while ago, it was announced that Two Door Cinema Club were going to headline the O2 in London. I almost cried reading that off Twitter. Was this really the same band I was annoying all my friends with in 2009 and 2010, saying they were going to be the Next Big Thing? Well, they’ve already surpassed the Next Big Thing. They are the Big Thing.
Whether it was photographing them from the floor at their very feet on the Constitution Hall stage or watching them larger than life from my elevated VIP box in the back, I felt a definite sense that I was watching history being made. ‘Sleep Alone’, a pretty much perfect single from 2012′s ‘Beacon’, started the show off in style, fangirls and fanboys contributing a deafening scream when the boys appeared onstage and whenever they took a moment to catch their breath in between songs.
Two Door Cinema Club are, by nature, not jokers, which comes across clearly in their stage banter. No, they’re very humble boys from Northern Ireland, entirely modest and clearly in awe of where they had suddenly found themselves. And with so many of their devoted fans, who they were thanking personally throughout the night for their support. Lead singer Alex Trimble asked a couple times, “is everyone doing ok?”, which of course led to more spirited screams. The one moment of humour of the night, if you could call it that, was when Trimble played a couple notes on his guitar over and over again, which served to build anticipation to the beginning of ‘Something Good Can Work’. This was the first real offering the band made to UK radio stations in 2009, so to have an entire venue hushed in wait for the song to start was no mean feat.
‘Changing of the Seasons’, the title track from their recently released EP, melted seamlessly into the backdrop of what has become the well-oiled and well-known Two Door set list; it sounded absolutely amazing. The only real complaint of the show I have is that they did not bring out ‘Golden Veins’ from the EP too, in which guitarist Sam Halliday sings lead vocals for the first time. Maybe the next time they come through, Sam will be given the spotlight and that song will receive an airing.
But for the excited masses, they wanted to hear the hits, and in Two Door’s case, there are loads of them. The reception for punchy ‘Wake Up’ was no less manic than for the arms that were raised and waved animatedly to older ‘Come Back Home’. ‘Sun’, a sleeper on ‘Beacon’, surprised me by getting a huge – and loud – response from the punters, so much more than I expected. The enjoyment of ‘I Can Talk’ was extended by Trimble slowing things down and ramping them back up again, only to figuratively reach out to the crowd and ask everyone to sing the chorus back to him. As you can imagine, we were only happy to comply.
When it came time for the end, the sweeping vocals of the chorus paired with the freneticism of the guitars of ‘Someday’ was the ideal way to start the encore. But I already guessed what song they’d end with. Yup. That old song off ‘Tourist History’ that I said that was going to be huge: ‘What You Know’. And what do we know after a Two Door Cinema Club show like this? We don’t need to guess that they’re going to be huge stars. They are already there. Congratulations, my boys. You’ve made it.
After the cut: Two Door Cinema Club’s set list.
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