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Isn’t it so often the case with cynical, heard-it-all-before critics that their most obvious gripes about a young band are usually the very merits that wind up paving golden roads to widespread popularity?
Take the inarguably pretentious but also undeniably promising L.A. group the Neighbourhood. Since its ascendency started gaining velocity little more than a year ago — when Coachella appearances as relative unknowns coincided with the release of their slickly moody debut I Love You and its Californicating first single, the radio-igniting “Sweater Weather” — there has been so much eye-rolling and style-shaming over such blatant commercialism and lack of originality that it’s been easy to overlook the forest for the trees that have enveloped this quintet. Of course the aim of their Columbia-certified amalgam is crassly ambitious, the sound stolen from a dozen superior sources.
How have so many haters forgotten the lessons Linkin Park reiterated with its instant win at the turn of the millennium? For better or usually worse, deftly market-driven music-by-committee still has the best shot of achieving platinum status in an era of dwindling-to-nonexistent sales. Yet, with luck, a better band will emerge from such success, whether on record, stage or both.
The Neighbourhood may just well be one of those long-range surprises. For all its evident flaws — particularly focal point Jesse Rutherford, a charismatic presence with a solidly improving voice who is nonetheless the biggest rock-star poseur to emerge in many years — the Neighbourhood is rapidly developing into an irrefutably strong live attraction, as proven by their confident headlining debut at the Greek Theatre Thursday night. They pulled in a capacity crowd of the same sort of rabidly excitable fans that have made Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda icons for a new generation. Regular Greek-goers would be hard-pressed to recall lines at this venue’s merch stands even half as long, nor have they seen such thick throngs huddling outside afterward in hopes of glimpsing the group’s exiting tour bus.
Does that really have anything to do with the band’s musical quality, or lack thereof? No, though there’s definitely something fresh brewing among this bunch, more so than snarky doubters will acknowledge. And when a rip-off resonates this passionately with under- twentysomethings, it’s foolish to dismiss what’s afoot with such immediacy.
Sure, spotting their influences is simple — the condos of forebears who aggregate into the Neighbourhood’s overall aesthetic have their doors wide open. Dumbest of all is the outfit’s staunch determination to maintain a black-and-white motif (as if they were worthy of a mystique befitting Bauhaus), going so far as to demand pro photographers capture them color-free for coverage, while seemingly everyone within a 100-foot radius at the Greek was busy posting reality on Instagram by the minute. Their visual output here also wasn’t terribly impressive, either, regurgitating clips from Pink Floyd The Wall and Chicago and even the Zapruder film of JFK’s assassination, rather than concocting their own distinctive array.
Smarter, however, are the cribbed composites these baby-faced musicians produce: hefty trip-hop that owes its throb to Massive Attack, an anthemic sheen that yearns to equal Coldplay’s, a good deal of Jeff Buckley drama but lots more pulse siphoned off from Sublime (check one of their best bits, “West Coast”), whose pitter-patter melodies clearly inform Rutherford’s lines as much as any rhymer they might name-check.
Add to it the same stark, detached intensity that courses through Lana Del Rey and Lorde and it’s no wonder the Neighbourhood comes across like a redesigned Linkin Park for the newly tragic, angst-ridden and horny. All around at the Greek you could spot bumping-and-grinding amid the rows, for if nothing else I Love You is becoming a go-to make-out classic for the Class of ’14, with Rutherford fast rising into sex-symbol status. On record, he’s almost androgynous, like Placebo’s Brian Molko, equally believable as a huskier female tone or a lighter male one. But on-stage, where his look is pure Scott Weiland with a dash of Davey Havok, his swagger steeped in the Jim Morrison tradition, there’s no mistaking his appeal.
Prowling in tight black pants and a leather jacket unzipped to show off his tattoo-splattered torso, his eyes hidden behind Bono-circa-“The Fly” shades, he was a walking magnet for female adoration; by night’s end, he’d garnered almost as much tossed-up lingerie as Tom Jones gathers at gigs. Rutherford plays it remarkably coy, though, or maybe he’s just aloof. When a front-row fan, momentarily given the mic, propositioned him with oral sex, he seemed somewhat dumbfounded by the offer.
Yet that kind of reaction is precisely why the Neighbourhood is apt to last longer than its allotted 15 minutes, regardless of whether their music ever develops into something more than an artier Hoobastank.
Some friendly advice, then: Make more use of lead guitarist Jeremy Freedman, for his solo during the slow-churned “Baby Came Home,” like Imagine Dragons doing blues-rock, was the most musically accomplished moment in a somewhat bungled hour-plus set. (Some bits crackled with extra electricity, as when rapper Casey Veggies joined for the new tune “Jealou$y.” Other times, there was stop-and-go flatness to the pacing, never more noticeable than when they teased an ear-grabbing forthcoming cut, “Dangerous,” with only a verse and chorus.)
Oh, and one other tip: Don’t put down the people at a world-renowned venue who wisely run a tight ship and adhere to strict curfews. It’s bad form. Had you not dawdled offstage for three minutes after your big hit, prolonging the launch of an inevitable encore, you’d have had time enough to play both songs you planned, rather than dumping “How” and ending with the spirited kiss-off “Afraid.” Seeing as tongue-wagging opening act Danny Brown — who lived up to Pitchfork-led hype in a fierce but fleeting turn — cut his set off 10 minutes before his time was up, you could have kicked off even sooner. And maybe have played all of “Dangerous,” too.
Everybody’s Watching Me (Uh Oh)
Baby Came Home
A Little Death
Let It Go
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