It’s an unseasonably pleasant January evening in Echo Park, if such a thing can be said to exist. Every trendy restaurant and coffee shop within a two-block radius of The Echo is filled to capacity, despite the low thump of a bass that grows louder (but not invasively so) the closer you are to the venue. At first blush, this might be the last place you’d look for a punk band who’s up for a Norwegian Grammy. Yet as you enter the dimly-lit cocoon of the venue, the hip veneer of the neighborhood melts away, save the overpriced beer and several dad-hat-donning fans.
It’s here that Norway’s Sløtface will perform their first show in the United States after the release of their debut album Try Not To Freak Out. Though the band has toured in America before, it’s been awhile. There’s a sense of anticipation after such a long wait that adds on to the rush that the first show of a tour brings. For now, though, about thirty people linger in the room, waiting expectantly for the openers.
Taking the stage first is Seattle-based Ever So Android. Armed with a scowl and a leather jacket, frontwoman Hope Simpson’s command of the stage begins before she even begins the set. And once she does, she lets loose, her voice simmering with raw power, trapping even the most bored member of the audience in rapt attention. With multi-instrumentalist Drew Murray at her side, there’s nothing that can stop Simpson, whose command of the stage rivals some of the highest-billed acts I’ve seen. Coupled with Murray’s blend of programmed sounds and pounding, electric-sounding rock, it’s clear that Ever So Android is in their element…and that there’s nothing that can stop the sheer force of their music. By their last few songs, the phones that the crowd has put away while standing there hypnotized, are coming out in an attempt to capture a bit of Simpson’s prowess. Even though they’re first up, Ever So Android is well on their way to stealing the show–especially by the time they get around to playing “Leash.”
Watch: “Leash” – Ever So Android
They’re followed by LA’s own synthpunkers The Pink Slips (which is not actually the band Lindsay Lohan’s character is plays in in the Freaky Friday remake, despite the similarity in name). Nonetheless, by kicking their set off with “Animal,” they’ve turned their amps up enough to grab the crowd’s interest. Vocalist Grace McKagan capitalizes on this, explaining after a few more songs that the band has been recording their second EP, and launching into several of the new songs: a surefire way to hook the locals. Aside from the new music, just-released “Gimme” and a rousing cover of “In Heaven” (yes, the lady in the radiator’s song from Eraserhead), are the two numbers that seem to get everyone excited the most before the set ends, leaving the room buzzing and ears ringing. To quote the photographer next to me, “they were great, now I’m just fucking deaf.”
By the time Sløtface themselves take the stage, there’s a healthy buzz in the air. A flannel-clad fellow clutching his beer surveying the scene notes, smilingly, that “it’s really filled in here…way more than last night…” There’s a tinge of local pride in his voice, most likely due to the fact that Echo Park has really come out for this one. Los Angeles is rarely the first tour stop for non-Californians, much less Norwegian punkers, and the question of whether the crowd will set a decent opening note for the band hands in the air.
The band by themselves are, obviously, untroubled by Flannel Beer Guy I’s weighted observation as they launch into what might be the perfect opening number, “Magazine.” Lasse and Tor’s bass and guitar are tuned to perfection that rivals even the recorded version on Try Not To Freak Out, and vocalist Haley Shea’s voice is particularly venomous as she lands the “Patti Smith would never put up with this shit” line. And with that, Sløtface’s American tour has started off with a bang.
As the band pauses for a breather and for the customary crowd greeting, Shea takes a moment to formally introduce the band. “We are Sløtface ,” she announces, emphasizing the u sound of the letter ø that so many Americans have no idea how to pronounce (read: Slutface).
From there, the band launches into several more songs from Try Not To Freak Out, keeping the rollicking mood through “Pools,” “Galaxies,” “Pitted,” “Bright Lights,” and “Sun Bleached” (of which, the latter feels even more special, seeing that the temperature hovered in the mid-70s Fahrenheit all day.) As the band plays several favorites from their earlier EPs (“Bright Lights,” “Empire Records), the crowd responds eagerly…but the ebb and flow of the energy in the room is not quite enough for the band.
Watch: “Empire Records” – Sløtface
About three-quarters of the way through the set, Lasse pauses to address the half-dancing, half-swaying members of the crowd. “Can we get a mosh pit going, please,” he asks before hopping down into the crowd to start one. Which, for one song, is almost a success.
“Great job,” Lasse says as he rolls his eyes. Haley laughs. In case it wasn’t obvious, she notes, “That was sarcasm from Lasse. It’s like Scandinavian enthusiasm.” Lasse laughs before adding, “Also, can we get more girls in the mosh pit, please? We’d like to see this be more 50-50.” Ever the feminists, the band encourages more women to shuffle towards the middle of the floor before starting up the next song.
As the band plays the opening notes of “Nancy Drew,” they get their wish: Even if they hadn’t asked, the crowd has come together on their own by now as Haley sings the opening lines. In our interview, Lasse said that “Nancy Drew” is his favorite song to play live, and it’s obvious why. The song takes on a life of its own when it’s live and unfiltered, and Sløtface is at their absolute best when playing it.
Following that high, the band wraps up with the album closer “Backyard.” As the band starts to play, Haley comes down into the audience to dance with what was the semi-enthusiastic mosh pit which, following her descent, is now completely fired up, singing along to the refrain “We are adventuring in our backyard!” As the last wild notes echo throughout the small building, crowd and band are both sufficiently pumped. Ears shot, crowd happy, Sløtface exits the stage as the crowd begging for more.
Which is, for any one, definitely the way to cap the first show of the American leg of a tour, especially one in notoriously laid-back L.A.
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photo © Jonathan Vivaas Kise