A Funny Thing Happened at The Hotel Cafe
I had heard and read quite a bit about the Hotel Cafe and what an unpretentious but still righteously cool spot it was to hear live bands. Being unfortunately jaded, cranky and old, I expected to spend most of this article prattling on about the venue and its attributes, and perhaps marginally mention this new band that had played there Friday night, a band called Until June, just recently signed to Flicker/Sony-BMG, yet another music group swimming in the depthless music industry sea, fighting to survive.
But then a funny thing happened Friday night when I went to the Hotel Cafe: I met the friendliest group of people in Los Angeles. Seriously. Brothers Josh and Dan Ballard are two genuine real guys, hanging out before the show, mingling and laughing and spreading the good word. There was talk of going out for pizza afterward at this great new joint on La Cienega called Vito’s (not a product plug- my friend from Manhattan says Vito’s is the best New York pizza he’s had in L.A.). A sizable group of people at the venue was drinking, laughing, and actually excited to see the show. Imagine that. And it was more than just my jaded, cranky and old self being impressed by such a great crowd. These people were fans of this band, have been for some time, and were there to see a show.
Listening to their tunes doesn’t really prepare the concertgoer for the Until June experience. These guys are a true L.A. band- Josh was quick to remind us before they started that they traveled all the way from Fairfax and Melrose. The two brothers, along with drummer Daniel Dempsey, are theatrical and very, very tight- it seemed at times they were connected by a lever and pulley system, the way all three of them would move together at certain times, like they were riding a high speed roller coaster. Josh leads the band with an infectious piano sound, and he also plays bass on his synth. Dan follows along with some truly beautiful guitar lines, especially on opener/has to be a hit single ‘All I Have,’ which displays one of the best and catchiest guitar hooks I’ve heard in a while.
It’s also refreshing to see lead singer Josh not afraid to embrace that microphone. At times he looked like he might take a bite out of it. By this time, my stomach was grumbling, and I wanted to take a bite out of it too. But it was his microphone, so I didn’t. Josh also has a scarily pretty voice, high falsetto one moment, sincere and conversational the next. He’s great at engaging the crowd and looks like he’s having the time of his life up there, sincerely sharing his secrets and his joy.
These guys are sincere, but don’t let that throw you off. Aren’t we all tired of post-ironic irony anyway? Not as banal as just reading off their diary entries, they pull out some heartfelt and earnest lyrics about life and love and trying to get by in a weary world. A couple of the mid-set songs, such as “What I’ve Done,” fall into that mid-tempo beat du jour, but then they play ‘Sleepless,’ and the next morning, I still can’t get the damn ‘oooh-oooh-oooh-ooo-ooh’ vocal hook out of my head. Ending the set with a refrain from a great song by Spiritualized only won me over more.
Name dropping other bands to describe a sound is too easy these days, used by hipsters to avoid explaining how they feel. ‘Yeah, dude, just like take a little bit of AC/DC, throw in the vocals from Kraftwerk and the drummer from that Danish Black Forest death metal band that was on KCRW the other morning, and that’s what they’re like!’ So let’s not do that. Until June are, simply put, a great and exciting band, poppy and tight with ridiculous hooks. They’re fun to watch and make you feel good when you hear their songs. In today’s shrinking music world of disposable pop idols, isn’t that a special thing?