The Soft Moon shined at DTLA’s Regent Theater Thursday night along with fellow California post-punk babes Sextile and Gateway Drugs.
All three bands banished the idea of the West Coast as a sunny surf rock capital of good vibes, instead crashing down some dark wave tunes that took us into a deeper, more expansive range of emotion.
We entered The Regent just as Sextile was transporting the crowd to the youthful energy of the ‘90s with their bleached hair, ugly sweaters, and single dangling earring. But their playful look did not betray their industrial post-punk sounds. Heavy groans from the Korg synth, steady marching beats from the stand-up drummer, startlingly mature, commanding vocals from the lead, and unrepentant movement from the wiry guitarist really set the stage for the evening.
Throughout the rest of the night, the venue continued to be filled with the kind of escalating relentlessness that makes you sway and jerk your body — feeling the continually obstructed energy caged within it. Shoe-gazing was certainly on the menu.
Next up was another LA group, Gateway Drugs. The first time I encountered them, I was crammed inside Lolipop Records, my view obscured by cassette shelves and bobbing heads. But when I heard them, I knew they were headed for bigger venues very soon, and they did not disappoint on the Regent stage.
Through the messy sounds of garage rock feedback, they have established a self-assured sound and a polished assertiveness. Members exchanged the bass and guitars and switched out on vocals, showing off the versatility and range within their unique formula of shoegaze-y garage pop. Despite their youth, they are skilled musicians with a solid direction, so be sure to catch them before they really take off.
Finally, it was The Soft Moon’s turn to take flight. Luis Vasquez, along with two bandmates, all clothed in black, eclipsed the audience’s minds with dark krautrock-influenced post-punk.
His synthesizers were a huge presence, winding, whining, bleeding their way into every song, as were the persistent, sometimes overwhelmingly cranial drum beats. At one point, during “Wrong,” all three men on stage were playing percussion, with Vasquez banging on what looked like a large trash can.
Since Vasquez is the sole songwriter behind The Soft Moon, I suppose I expected to watch one man bending over a synthesizer the whole show, but Vasquez is a kinetic frontman, dancing around with his guitar and never too far from the microphone to insert a few beautiful, bleating moans.
The songs “Try” and “Far” off of Deeper (Captured Tracks) feature Vasquez prominenetly on vocals, and because of his stage presence, the performance leaned away from some of his experimental noise efforts and toward more audience-friendly fare.
And the audience responded. Looking around, I had another 90s/early 00s flashback. People in studded belts and smeared eyeliner, sporting neon green or henna-ed hair swayed around me. Emo kids were back in full force and loving every minute of this hard life.
In this, The Soft Moon proved its power. What is one man’s singularity of vision, vocalized sounds of his internal struggles with anxiety and depression, music which bleeds out exclusion and expulsion, actually becomes beguilingly inclusive to an audience who recognizes itself in its demanding, sometimes heartwrenching sounds.
Unfortunately, just two days after this show, while they were playing in Oakland, much of The Soft Moon’s equipment was stolen from their van. Donate here to help restore it.
With the support of fans and an internal persistence that is key to Vasquez’s work, we are sure The Soft Moon will keep on rising.
Courtlin Byrd is a freelance writer living & working in Los Angeles. Most days, she can be found driving the hills in her ’97 Volvo, dancing in diners Audrey-Horne-style, or online here.
See photos from the night below, taken January 28.
All images copyright © James Juarez