A parking tip for the Masonic Temple: it’s a warm night, go ahead and show a little skin. Pretty soon you’ll meet the most polite, best looking security detail in town and they’ll be raising each other up on the walkies, moving golf carts out of your way, making sure you get a good spot in the lot so you don’t have to walk too far. Thanks, guys.
It was a fitting welcome to my first show at the Masonic Temple, a beautiful venue with a reverent vibe even when packed for a sold out show. Approaching the low, barely shin-high stage, crossing the carpeted floor you enter a very intimate space to see a performer you felt familiar with, but is who now so close to your physical space as to give you pause. Calvin Love, playing solo on an August night warm enough to make even beer bottles sweat, did nothing to break the spell of strange closeness.
Love, familiar to eastsiders as the longtime guitarist for Red Cortez/Just an Animal played a set of new solo material more bedroom pop than the anthemic soaring of his former band. Love played alone on stage with backing tracks, alternating between guitar and a small keyboard surrounded by an armada of effects pedals that he adjusted as if he were auditioning for the scientist role on a telenovela. These were compositions of heavily layered electronic and synth tracks and guitar. There are limitations to what an artist can draw out of backing tracks and heavily processed vocals in this type of a 21st century one-man-band set up, and you sometimes wished that the other former Red Cortezes (one or more of whom has been conspicuously present in the audience at his live shows) would just get up there and help the guy fill out the sound. Despite the constraints Love delivers in his live show. He works 1980’s synth pop to its full dancy exhilarating effect, always moving the entire set. His performance radiates charm and charisma. While playing two instruments and singing he manages to dance a little two-step while performing the entire set with an inner bounciness like super balls overflowing onto the sidewalk. The set was a promising preview of the album he has in the works for official release, a reworking of New Radar released on bandcamp in May .
By the time Divine Fits was about to take the stage I had made a full reconnaissance of the Masonic Temple indoors and out and discovered an air conditioning vent in the front third of the room, plenty close to the stage. Sold. As Divine Fits opened with “Baby Get Worse” the Masonic Temple was like a steam room with chandeliers, the heavy air underscoring the collision of the sacred and profane. Divine Fits, a meta group lead by Britt Daniel of Spoon and Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs, and including New Bomb Turks' Sam Brown, along with Alex Fischel on keyboards, is hard-driving blues slanting rock played by guys who are not as intimidating as that description would suggest. The keyboards, with entire synth lines that sound like they time traveled to the stage from the 1980's in a DeLorean, fill out the arrangements in a way that both lightens and winks at the rest of the dudey blusesy straight rockin’ enterprise. Daniel and Boeckner trade off lead vocals, mostly song for song, and occasionally within the same song as they do on “Civilian Stripes.” The effect is to keep the center of gravity of a moving target. Daniel radiates enthusiasm. He's a little dorky, but also relatable. There isn't anything in the show that breaks new ground, but it played as if these four guys had gotten together and asked each other, "What do you love about rock 'n roll? OK, let's do that. Let's do everything that's fun and awesome that we dreamed of when we were fifteen."