With a date that fosters superstition (Friday the 13th), a lunar phase that prompts strange behaviors (full moon), and late winter weather conditions that provide easy travel conditions (no snow on the ground), the ingredients were as close to ideal for a good ol’ club gig as one could get. Yet for some reason, the vast majority of Iowa’s largest college town found other forms of entertainment and left two fine up-and-coming rock bands with national credentials up to their own devices in front of about 50-75 people, a crowd that diminished as the night wore on.
The explanation might be that kids today no longer enjoy late shows, particularly ones with two acts, a regional opener (Oui Bandits from Omaha), and a 9:00pm door time. I can appreciate the resistance for late shows—I’m old and have kids—but I think the real reason was that the big draw tonight was Blind Pilot, and they happened to draw the straw for the middle set performance and people trickled out after their set.
With the amount of time that the Broken West spent on the road supporting their debut I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On (review), one would expect the band to pull out the leftovers for album number two. Surprisingly, the band makes an unexpected left turn with Now Or Heaven and they execute this sea change with an authority that will have you questioning how they managed to pull such a Houdini with so little free time to contemplate new directions.
From the sounds of it, the road deadened the Broken West’s sense of optimism. Whatever they saw through the windshield of their van over the course of a year clearly wiped away that wide-eyed possibility and traded it in for the reality that the world ain’t always a pretty place. And when you pin that against the band’s inherent sense of melodic beauty, you come up with some remarkable results.
Hailing from Los Angeles has its share of benefits and drawbacks. The benefit is that you’re so close to the entertainment industry that you’ve got a plethora of support systems to utilize, whether it be a myriad of clubs to perform in, like-minded musicians and performers to befriend, or the industry itself when it comes time to hawking your shit. The downfall is pretty much the same as the benefits, but at least you’ve got a large history of bands before you that managed to rise above the make-believe and keep L.A.’s allure in tact so that people still put it on the end of their own yellow brick road.
Or to quote one such band from L.A.: “The West is the best / Get here and we’ll do the rest.”
The Broken West don’t happen to use The Doors as their musical blueprint, but they did follow their relocation advice as all of the members are transplants to the City of Angles. After an independently released EP (The Dutchman’s Gold) they signed to Merge Records and released their debut I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On.
Frontman Ross Flournoy set aside some time to talk with Glorious Noise as the band began their North American tour in support of their new album Now Or Heaven.
Given power-pop’s track record of posting lousy sales, it says something about any band that chooses it as their primary influence. The genre itself prompts such a primeval reaction among its supporters that it’s completely logical when a band gets caught up and starts bashing out their slight interpretation of it.
The Broken West’s interpretation of power pop adds a big tablespoon of their Los Angeles history to it, which makes their debut long-player I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On fairly unique for a genre that typically prides itself on staying close to the bone.
Don’t get me wrong: The Broken West isn’t reinventing the wheel here. Instead, the performances grab the wheel and take you on a journey down Laurel Canyon Boulevard on the way towards the Paisley Underground.