Tonight is a night for catching up on old business. So I’m going to jump back to the start of February, for a special performance from L.A.’s own Warpaint. These girls have been going at it for the past 15 years, and this show (the second of two) was their anniversary soiree, held as part of the “Love You Down” music and arts showcase at the Echoplex/Echo on 02.07. and 02.08. This piece is focused on the Friday night latter, which I intended to post early last week, but for one reason or another, I neglected to do so. I’m correcting that error now, with a healthy selection of clips and a brief bit of belated coverage. Let’s get started.
First off, Warpaint is one of my favorite local bands – local being Los Angeles. They’ve got a prog-rock mindset, indie to the core, streetwise and garage, hypnotic and immersive, and fearlessly experimental. Their tunes are laced with infectious low-key rhythms that take their own sweet time, growing, rising, evolving at a leisurely measured pace. There’s plenty of cool ambience and lush psychedelia to go around and around. And at the end of the day, they’re just super groovy to kick it to.
Admittedly, I’ve only been on the Warpaint bandwagon for the last five or so years. I stumbled upon them when their self-titled third release came out in 2013. It was the stoney stompin’ beats from the single “Disco//Very” that first grabbed my attention, as I’m sure was the case with many others who were newcomers to this fourpiece. It still remains a highlight of their live performance.
Warpaint performs “Disco//Very” at the Echoplex on 02.08.19.
Of course, “Disco//Very” is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Although counting as my introduction, it turned out it wasn’t my favorite track from that album. I think that would have to be “Love is to Die,” which is just an odd toe tapper, with one of those brooding basslines, stripped percussion, and a lyrical skew that seems to slip and slide like an asymmetrical dream. Or maybe it’s “Keep It Healthy,” which sways a little more upbeat, still moody and broody as hell, vocally tuned with a casual charge of angelic fury.
One of the main things l love about Warpaint is their ability to craft simplistic complexity, which these two tend to embody. Often times, their songs seem deceptively sparse, spatial and open, regardless of tempo or temperature. There’s room to breathe, as well as get lost.
Also, both of these tracks embody some of my favorite vocals, phantasmic and sublime, seeming as chants to conjure, invoking otherworldly dreams and visions. All four lend their voice to Warpaint’s mesmeric aura – Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman , Jenny Lee Lindberg, and Stella Mozgawa. Emily and Theresa play guitar, with the former taking the lead in most cases . Jenny Lee’s on bass. Stella Mozgawa rounds out the quartet on drums. Together, their vocals coalesce into a laid-back urgency, rising and falling with elusive irregularity, marked by abstract beauty and ethereal unease, both enthralled and enraptured, like a siren’s grasp. Like I said, it’s moody stuff.
Warpaint perform “Love is to Die” at the Echoplex on 02.08.19.
Warpaint perform “Keep It Healthy” at the Echoplex on 02.08.19.
Speaking of moody, there’s one more track performed from the self-titled LP, titled “Drive.” This one evokes those lonely dusky highways, bathed in solitary scintillations of forlorn chords and forgotten melody. Needless to say, this one sticks to the slower and sparser edges, churning slow, coasting and careening through suggestive shadows and melancholic thought, until it arrives at its casual crescendo.
Warpaint perform “Drive” at the Echoplex on 02.08.19.
From here, I’m going to take a step forward with material from their 2016 LP “Heads Up.” Warpaint covered a lot of ground, both old and new, including a brand new unreleased one called “Melting,” which I’m still kicking myself for not recording. So I’m jumping around a bit, making an attempt to group the setlist by era or album.
For “Heads Up,” I’ve got “New Song” and “So Good,” which in my mind, rank as some of the more spirited upbeat numbers. The former definitely shines in this light, optimistically punchy, not full-on pop, yet infused with the same vitality and spunk. I dare say “New Song” is a dance track, but Warpainted, of course. “So Good” drops the pop, knocking the beat back a notch. It’s still percussively buoyant, bass-driven and bouncey, but colored in sullen six-string hues, left of center and shaded.
Warpaint perform “New Song” at the Echoplex on 02.08.19.
Warpaint perform “So Good” at the Echoplex on 02.08.19.
Jumping back to 2009’s “Exquisite Corpse,” Warpaint dug deep into the past to deliver two solid old school favorites, “Burgundy” and “Elephants.” The former was introduced as a “special request.” And it must’ve been pretty special, because they didn’t play it the night before, nor back in October for their Desert Daze appearance. “Burgundy” is like a slow-roll psychedelic goth anthem, romantic and unglamorous, bathed in hazy chords and smokey tones. It’s glorious.
“Elephants” is a live staple, always rearing its kaleidoscopic trunk somewhere in the set. It’s got those dulcimer guitars twinkling beneath its dark paisley prog-rock discordance, rhythmically raw and anxious, full of sharp serrated guitars and soft vocal contortions. Warpaint still performs it regularly for a reason.
Warpaint perform “Burgandy” at the Echoplex on 02.08.19.
Warpaint perform “Elephants” at the Echoplex on 02.08.19.
Warpaint leaned favorably into 2010’s “The Fool” as well, serving up four singles from the debut album. “Exquisite Corpse” is technically their first release, beating it by a year, but it’s typically counted as an EP. Anyway, I got three of those below, “Bees,” “Set Your Arms Down,” and “Undertow.” The fourth was “Shadows,” but I think I was tired of holding my phone up.
“Bees” blew by with a coldwave chill, subliminal and swampy, bass-heavy, fluttering in shimmers of detuned resonance, meandering in refractive weaves and reflective waves. By contrast, “Set Your Arms Down” almost seemed folkloric, dreamlike and ancient, saturated in misted ambience and cavernous space. It didn’t stay that way, slow rumbling towards an uprise of mystical reverberation. It’s briefly lived, but just right.
“Undertow” concluded the set, leaving things somewhere in the middle, balanced between upbeat and bittersweet, which also feels right. It’s an energetic number, lively, yet severely cut in brooding grooves. Excuse the audio recording. It seems to muffle in and out in spots, which is unfortunate, but not enough to ruin the experience.
Warpaint perform “Bees” at the Echoplex on 02.08.19.
Warpaint perform “Set Your Arms Down” at the Echoplex on 02.08.19.
Warpaint perform “Undertow” at the Echoplex on 02.08.19.
I guess this write-up wasn’t as brief as I thought it’d be. But it is the 15th anniversary of Warpaint. I’d say that warrants more than a few words of thought and rumination. I probably should’ve got it posted sooner. Oh well … Better late than never. The setlist embed is below. It’s missing that brilliant new song “Melting,” which hasn’t been released yet. But everything else is there. Hope you enjoyed this one!