Hailing from the City of Angels, Capital Cities owned the middle slot, an hour of sinewy electro-pop that entranced the entire club—after making their entrance to the 1989 Aaron Neville / Linda Ronstadt duet “Don’t Know Much.” Spearheaded by Ryan Merchant (guitar / vocals) and Sebu Simonian (keys / vocals), the five-piece masterfully wove organic 70’s grooves with mechanized post-millennial beats and synth pastiches, rendering just about every track from its latest long-player, In a Tidal Wave of Mystery.
Judging from the reaction, Ohio listeners already had these guys on their radar.
Thick-bearded Simonian looked like he’d be more at home wielding a guitar in a stoner rock outfit like Mastodon, but the singer / programmer proved himself a consummate rave ringmaster by triggering samples on his keyboard-mounted laptop and employing body language to lure onlookers into the fray. The clean-cut Merchant didn’t actually play much guitar, using the instrument more for texture and color than clichéd rock star pyrotechnics. But he too invigorated the audience with strong singing and—with Simonian—synchronized jazzercise moves that so thoroughly pumped the pit-dwellers that one practically couldn’t help but pogo-dance to “Kangaroo Court” and “Origami.” At one point the band had nearly everyone in the venue swinging shirts and jackets over their heads.
The band was rounded out by Manuel Quintero on bass, Channing Holmes on drums, and the aforementioned Spencer Ludwig on trumpet. Each helped flesh out the giddy, effervescent mixes on “Center Stage,” “Chartreuse,” and “Chasing You,” their uniform Capital Cities varsity jackets imbuing the band with visual solidarity.
If anyone doubted the group’s affection for Carter-era disco music, Simonian and Merchant set ‘em straight with the bubbly “Farrah Fawcett Hair,” whose sound byte-peppered verses celebrate the late Charlie’s Angels model, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Nutella, scented candles, and other “good shit.” The mischievous band also commandeered the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” retrofitting the Saturday Night Fever theme with skanking ska rhythms and an outro that borrowed lines from Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song).” Ludwig busted out a purple trombone late in the set—as if the music weren’t colorful enough already.
Watch the “Kangaroo Court” video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=0jCq-cav5mM
“I Sold My Bed (But Not My Stereo)” was (per Simonian) “a song about priorities” that thrust music to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Likewise, “Center Stage” took a page from the Chic playbook—and got ticketholders doing the Capital Cities Shuffle—without actually purloining the “Freak Out” funk group’s 1979 gem “Good Times.” Simonian and Merchant signed off with their #1 alternative hit “Safe and Sound,” quitting their instruments as the track wound down to partake in the house party, high-fiving fans from over the barricade.
- Taken from “Fitz & The Tantrums Bring ‘Bright Futures’ Tour” by By Pete Roche. Photo by Michael Sawyer. Appeared in The Cleveland Sound.