Friday, October 18, 2013

Walk the Moon, The Mowgli's concert review: Santa Ana, Calif.

My review originally appeared at

As Walk the Moon’s rousing Observatory performance neared its conclusion Wednesday night, Nicholas Petricca urged fans to lift away any negative energy they might possess.

The singer/keyboardist (pictured, left) shouldn’t have bothered. Opening act the Mowgli’s already took care of that.

Returning for another sold-out show at the Santa Ana venue, WTM easily frenzied the young crowd, many of whom wore face paint, in deference to the band’s favored look, and got a bit overzealous in the packed pit. A warrior mentality, perhaps?

The Ohio alt-pop band, so increasingly popular that its rapidly sold-out Wiltern show this weekend was upgraded to the larger Hollywood Palladium, launched its 75-minute set with the propulsive, synth-heavy strains of “Next in Line,” guitarist Eli Maiman delivering some supersonic fretwork.

Equally vibrant was the stage design, modeled after the watercolor tree-house picture adorning last year’s eponymous debut album (one tin topiary almost got toppled by a clumsy roadie).

Petricca put his falsetto to fine use during the Maroon 5-leaning “Any Way I Can,” during which Maiman’s bright-toned solo recalled Journey’s Neal Schon, as well as the playfully sexual “Shiver Shiver,” capped by fake falling snow. The group also unveiled a couple promising new tunes, including the atmospheric “Different Colors” and giddy “Me and All My Friends.”

Later, the vigorous chant-heavy “I Can Lift a Car,” dramatically intense “Iscariot” and Maiman’s transfixing reverb washes on “Fixin’” were standouts. Walk the Moon’s Top 10 modern rock radio tune “Anna Sun” closed the main set with people dutifully pogoing along, and the surroundings filled with more excitement than before.

The Mowgli’s make life-affirming neo-folk music that proved enlightening as always in O.C. Having played the venue’s smaller Constellation Room this past summer (they return there Dec. 13), the L.A. octet benefited from inhabiting a more expansive stage Wednesday.

Even a curmudgeon would change his mood after seeing these seven guys and one gal live. “Waiting for the Dawn” kicked off the solid 45-minute performance in spirited fashion, and though a set of keyboards was adorned with the word “dance” in bright lettering, concertgoers here definitely didn’t needed any prodding to do so during festive sing-along numbers like “Emily,” “Say It, Just Say It,” “Leave It Up to Me” and “The Great Divide.”

Vocalist/guitarist Michael Vincze told the crowd to “believe in yourself and know you are capable of accomplishing anything” before the quietly affecting “Carry Your Will.” Finally, two musician friends were invited onstage to partake in the revelry of hit single “San Francisco.” The call-and-response refrain “do you feel the love” was put into practice as two young female enthusiasts presented the Mowgli’s with homemade T-shirts.

Smallpools, the evening’s first act, played their first live gig earlier this year, yet seemed like pros here. The burgeoning group has already released a self-titled EP via RCA Records, opened for Two Door Cinema Club and found the single “Dreaming” making playlists on KROQ, SiriusXM’s Alt Nation and elsewhere. A network television debut is imminent, Oct. 28 on Jimmy Kimmel Live!

The L.A.-based electro-pop quartet’s half-hour at the Observatory was well-received, thanks to soaring, infectious songs like “Mason Jar,” the Afropop of “Over and Over” and the punchy, Phoenix-styled “Dreaming,” driven by singer Sean Scanlon’s sprightly keyboards. Their fine cover of New Radicals’ modest ’98 hit “You Get What You Give” was a pleasant surprise.

The Mowgli's return Dec. 11 at L.A.'s El Rey Theatre, $17, and Dec. 13 at the Observatory, $15. Smallpools also appears Dec. 13 at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, $12.

Walk the Moon live photo by Miguel Vasconcellos
The Mowgli’s photo courtesy Photo Finish/Island Records

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