The Oakland band Rogue Wave played an in-store performance at Brooklyn’s Sound Fix a few weeks ago. It was scheduled for 12:30 pm on a Saturday, which is insanely early for a music event or anything involving travel from one part of Brooklyn to any other. We gathered at the record store clutching giant cups of coffee and stared blearily at the band, who stared blearily back. They all (5 of them that day) complained of the early hour, except singer/songwriter Zach Rogue (a morning person).
It turned out Rogue Wave’s music was a lovely way to enter the day. They were all-acoustic, gentle and melodic. Zach sang in a high, soft, lulling voice. He’d managed to come up with inventive rhythmic patterns in his songs that added new life to the same old chords in an unbelievably impressive way. The drummer was keyed in perfectly, however sleepy he might have been. The band was deliciously tight and together, humming along in these beautiful, bouncy compositions that spread in lovely nuances over the assembled thrift store chic and messy Lord Fauntleroy haircuts. They played and played, seeming to love the mix (which was perfect) and the unexpected fun of playing at the crack of hepcat dawn.
A few nights days later, I went to see Rogue Wave at the Mercury, by accident – a friend of mine was on the bill. Maybe it was standing right under one speaker, but for me they lost virtually every bit of their charm once they plugged in. The songs were not gentle, clever and imaginative, but loud and ordinary. The singer wasn’t singing in soft, lulling voice, but a standard rock voice. The music was crashing and crunching – there was no magic – it was boring. After three songs I left.
Nothing against Rogue Wave, because I really didn’t give them a chance that night, but if the sound isn’t exquisite, I don’t want to be there. If a band isn’t mixed right, I don’t see any point in listening to them. Sound people in rock clubs run the gamut of sadists who seem bent on savaging the ears with the zeal of an Abu Ghraib torturer, to astute folks who actually listen to the band at sound check and figure out how to make the singer’s voice audible (but this is rare, so rare). Most fall somewhere in between – the band wails away, the audience tries to figure out what they might sound like if the sound were better, and – well, that’s it, really.