Smith Westerns, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Tennis System at Rock and Roll Hotel

As a sold out show at a pretty small venue, you’d think this gig would be kicking. But instead, it just…wasn’t. It’s hard to say when or where it started or if it was anything at all, but something was pretty weird at Rock and Roll Hotel tonight, especially during Smith Westerns set.

D.C. locals  Tennis System took the stage first for their farewell show as they head to Los Angeles in the near future. Their MySpace points towards Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine as influences, but with pop sensibilities. I could catch this feeling a little bit, as there was indeed a wall of sound emanating from the music, but it seemed to cloud the pop feel the band was going for. Being a hometown show, there was a large support group there for them, and they took extra time, playing for a total of 50 minutes, which would be more than any band that night. Some of the songs were catchy, but I found myself having difficulty getting fully into the set.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, or UMO, is a Portland, Ore.-based three-piece with a singer from New Zealand. This was the second time I’ve seen a band with ties to New Zealand play at Rock and Roll Hotel, as I caught Surf City opening for Real Estate and Woods last March. The bass-heavy jams had a ’60s pop feel, and the guitar was spastic and just different from normal chords and riffs. I definitely got into some of these songs, many of which were short and punchy.

Finally, it was time for Smith Westerns, touring for their awesome record Dye It Blonde. The touring five-piece’s sound was a little small to begin with, but filled out as the set went on, despite Cullen Omori breaking a string and having to switch guitars. The band went through cuts from Dye It Blonde like “Fallen In Love” and “Only One” and “Be My Girl” from the self-titled, but as the set went on, something was weird. The drummer sulked over the drum set and his eye contact with Omori did not lend much confidence to how he was feeling. He just looked like he hated his life. At one point, he appeared to gesture like he was flipping off someone, but using the drum stick instead of his middle finger. At the end of the show, with much of the crowd encouraging an encore, the band disappeared. The drummer reappeared to start breaking down the set and promptly flipped everyone off. Weird to say the least.

It’s not to say they weren’t bad — because they really weren’t. “Weekend” and “All Die Young” were two of the highlights of the set and musically the band was incredibly solid. They hit all the guitar solos and did essentially everything they were supposed — something just wasn’t right overall. The people I talked to widely agreed that it was a different crowd and that the vibes they were getting weren’t the best, and it was kind of disappointing.

I hope to get the chance to catch Smith Westerns on there way around again and catch them in a better mood or just more together as a band. Hopefully Tennis/La Sera/Holiday Shores tomorrow brings better vibes.


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