When three bands that can be categorized as experimental or avant-garde team up for a tour, it is easy to expect there to be an artsy fartsy, pompous vibe at a show. Luckily, that was not the case when the wondrous Parenthetical Girls, Extra Life, and Sam Mickens rolled into Los Angeles last Thursday.

While all are known for blending all sorts of musical elements together in unexpected ways, the bands created a night at The Echo full of camaraderie, for many reasons. All of the bands have been friends for many years and the Pacific Northwest background that Sam Mickens and Parenthetical Girls share has led to many collaborations. Even LA locals Abe Vigoda, the headliner for the night, have a long history of playing shows with the bands. According to one of the band members, one of Abe Vigoda’s very first shows was on a bill with Parenthetical Girls. Needless to say, there was a lot of love in the room.

The Echo
Los Angeles, CA
2011 – 07/21

Sam Mickens

With his sleek and composed appearance, Sam Mickens, who also fronts Seattle-based band The Dead Science, kicked off the night. Mickens’ solo set did not seem like a far cry from his work with the band. Though he was only equipped with a guitar, the songs were softer and less spastic, yet still the notes and words creeped from stanza to stanza. His voice quivered like that of a ’50s crooner with an added menacing touch. For his closing song, he was joined on stage by Extra Life’s Charlie Looker and Craig Wedren, of the Dischord Records band Shudder To Think, on guest vocals.

Extra Life

When Extra Life took the stage, it was a great surprise to see only three guys. As complex as the band’s music is, one would expect at least six band members, with half of the group playing a type of instrument that would come out of a Tim Burton movie. In reality, the band was just composed of vocalist Looker on synths, a drummer, and guitarist. Playing songs off the latest Extra Life EP, entitled Ripped Heart, Looker’s facial expressions were like that of a mad scientist. The rhythm of his vocals was almost Gregorian chant-like and his focused stares seemed to take cues from a plethora of voices inside his head. The band’s set was like an abstract painting where a viewer’s eyes have a hard time focusing on one point. The listener’s ears are taken for a wild ride without much of a focus point — not necessarily a bad thing. While filled with contrasting dark percussion and sometimes vibrant synth sounds, songs like “Strong Brother, Weak Brother” managed to be quite enchanting. The eeriness of “Head Shrinker” felt like it stopped time, giving the audience the chance to better grasp and appreciate the compositions.

Parenthetical Girls

Parenthetical Girls had a lighter tone compared to the night’s prior performers, but their set was nothing short of mesmerizing. Touring with an entirely new band, frontman Zac Pennington and his new recruits got off to a rough start with “A Song For Ellie Greenwich,” as the mixing levels were a bit off. However, everything was fixed by the next song, the electro-fused “Careful Who You Dance With.” When not playing guitar, Pennington endearingly jumped into the crowd and pranced around the club. Something about his graceful movements were reminiscent of a cuddly bunny rabbit, and his hand gestures channeled the allurement of a flight attendant. He’s definitely one of those guys that both women and men can be attracted to. On the last song, “Stolen Children,” Pennington went into the crowd and while crouched down, went around the club tapping the ground, walls and mirrors. His actions mirrored that of a young child marveled by a new environment, excited to explore and create. It made the music even more charming.

Abe Vigoda

Excited to once again be sharing the stage with Parenthetical Girls, Abe Vigoda closed out the night with their muddy pop tunes. Though the music incorporated punk and garage rock elements, the band’s set was very ebullient. Whether it was a song using a lot of distortion or a tropical-inspired track, it was obvious that the band members were having fun as they danced on stage. They were also very gracious in between songs, thanking everyone for attending the show. Gratitude was strong a reoccurring theme, making the night that much more enjoyable and reinforcing the importance of community between bands and fans.

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