Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Raveonettes concert review: Santa Ana, Calif.

My review originally appeared at

The Raveonettes definitely chose a fitting title for their seventh album, “Pe’ahi.”

It was named after a location on the north shore of Maui that contains a famous surfing break known as Jaws. 

Similarly, the Danish duo’s music often has a dangerous undercurrent, with guitar distortion that washes over the listener like sonic waves.

Together since 2001, the critically acclaimed garage rockers were influenced by ’60s girl groups, Velvet Underground, Suicide and Sonic Youth. They share a stylistic kinship with more recent alternative bands like Dum Dum Girls, the Kills and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

Before recording “Pe’ahi,” singer/songwriter Sune Rose Wagner moved from New York City to Los Angeles, where musical partner Sharin Foo resided. Wagner immersed himself into surf culture and incorporated subtle beach elements in the lyrics and music.

Switching longtime producers in favor of Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, NIN, M83), the pair commissioned a string arrangement by TV/film composer Joe Trapanese (“Dexter,” “Tron: Legacy,” “Oblivion”) and used harp and a choir for the first time. The results are captivating as ever. This past July, the album was released without advance notice and is still in the top 20 on college radio’s CMJ chart.

Almost half of the 80-minute concert on Tuesday night was devoted to “Pe’ahi” material – including the first five selections. Shrouded in dim lighting that gave way to strobes, and augmented by a drummer, the band took the Observatory stage to some elegant piano strains.

“Endless Sleeper” launched the hypnotizing proceedings in Santa Ana. Replete with break beats and the musicians’ staccato and fuzz-tone guitar mix, the lyrics touched upon Wagner’s near drowning in Hawaii six years ago. He has called it a subtle nod to the Doors (Raveonettes just recorded that group’s “The End” on a new psychedelic tribute album). A gloriously dense “Sisters” featured a crazed Wagner guitar solo, and “Killer in the Streets” boasted a surprisingly danceable groove.

Wagner seemed to relish the moments when he ceded lone guitar duty to Foo, took the microphone and sang like he was a freestyle rapper. Case in point: the harrowing “Kill,” a true story surrounding his father’s infidelity and alcohol-fueled 2013 death. The film noir soundtrack-styled “Wake Me Up,” reverb-drenched harmonies of “Lust” and gilded guitar sound in “Hallucinations” all proved riveting.

Another new one, “Z-Boys,” found Wagner rhapsodizing about old surfers and skaters, warm California breezes and kids on “forbidden streets with rusty knives.” It came to a standstill for effect before starting full bore again with reverb surges.

Basically content to let the music do the talking, Wagner did cryptically say, “Now we’ve dug our own graves,” before the marvelously poppy “Love in a Trash Can.” Then a minor slam pit erupted in front of the stage. Other standouts included the vulnerable “Uncertain Times,” a haunting “If I Was Young” and blistering assaults “Attack of the Ghost Riders” and “Break Up Girls.”

The encore saw Wagner concentrate solely on vocals, backed by triggered synth for a blissful, vintage New Order-like “Recharge and Revolt.” Then the band played its usual haunting closer, “Aly, Walk with Me.”

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