Santos Party Houseis located just outside of Chinatown in the TriBeCa neighborhood of Manhattan. After a two minute walk from the 4 train on Canal Street, I arrived at the venue. The reviews that I read about overzealous bouncers and long lines were unfounded. Granted, I strolled in around 7:30, well after the doors opened at 6. I was able to easily weave my way through the loosely packed crowd to the front of the stage while the opening opening act was still on stage. Santos is touted as a dance venue with DJs and club music every Saturday night and known for a massive sound system.
Spirit Animal, the first act of the night, hail from Brooklyn and are self described as psychedelic rock and pop. Front man Steve Cooper bounced all over the stage with boundless enthusiasm. An equally excited videographer followed him in the audience, back and forth across the stage throughout the set. Paul Michel was rocking some serious slap bass while guitarist Cal Stamp had a much more laid back approach to playing. While many in the audience were appreciative of Cooper’s energy, it felt overdone. I was initially drawn in by his animation, but it quickly changed to annoyance. Use that intensity to connect with the audience, not the cameras.
I stumbled across Brooklyn based Eytan and the Embassy’s music by way of their video for “Everything Changes.” It holds the record for most costume changes in a one-take music video, with 18 throughout the four minute song. While the video is entertaining, the solid songwriting and instrumentation really drew me in. They are a mixture of rock and pop with a retro feel. Influences of the Beatles, Dylan, Springsteen and Radiohead can be heard throughout their 2012 album titled The Perfect Break Up.
Eytan and the Embassy opened their set with leader Eytan Oren shuffling around the stage brandishing a cowbell. He danced between guitarist Anthony Rubbo and his keyboard, leaning back towards the microphone for the vocals. It’s a mixture of Liam Gallagher‘s tilted pose with a little Mick Jagger strutting thrown in. I’m not sure if someone had fallen asleep at the fog machine, but it was smokier than a cigar shop. I get that you want to show off all the cool lighting effects behind the band, but when I have a hard time making out the band members on the opposite side of the stage, it’s safe to say you went a little overboard. The crowd appreciated the upbeat set by dancing and clapping along to the music. There was enthusiasm throughout the band: Baritone saxophonist Geoff Countryman leaned back as he blasted his notes, drummer Attis Clopton shouted out the tempo before songs while Oren threw his head back and forth, coming dangerously close to knocking himself out on his own keyboard. Sarah Nisch joined the band on backing vocals for their new song “Weekend Warrior” and stayed for “Everything Changes.” The 45 minute set flowed and the energy remained high while the audience bobbed their heads in time to the music.
Gear was packed and swapped out relatively quickly, which was impressive. As always just before the headliner takes the stage, the crowd moved forward, but it was respectful. Excited fans gathered right up to the stage and cheered in delight as lead vocalist Aja Volkman and guitarist Rich Koehler of Nico Vega set up their instruments. Volkman smiled and said hello to as many people as she could.
Nico Vega are set to release their second LP We Are the Art in the spring of this year. The Los Angeles band is a mixture of blues guitar and alt rock with plenty of synths. I wasn’t immediately struck by their 2009 self titled release, yet their live show completely won me over. Their set opened with the barefooted Volkman on the drum kit, while drummer Dan Epand and bassist Jamila Weaver stood behind a graffiti decorated garbage can. They pounded away on it, creating a solid tribal dance beat. Koehler added roaring guitar solos to the mix.
Aja Volkman owned the stage. When she picked up the microphone, she immediately walked to the front of the stage and reached out to the crowd. She perched on the edge of the stage with a huge smile on her face. Early on in the set, she climbed atop the drum kit, one foot resting on the bass drum, one foot on a cymbal, as she belted out strong vocals. Their set was filled with drumming, looped vocals and gritty guitar solos. The massive sound system, while most likely great for pounding club music, drowned out the musicianship of the performance. I watched a pair of fans move away from the front of the stage after Nico Vega’s first song, holding their ears. I had earplugs in and I still suffered ringing by the end of the show.
The entire night was a showcase of intensity from the musicians, each displaying it in their distinct style: Spirit Animal jumping on and off the stage, Eytan and the Embassy encouraging the audience to sing and clap along and Nico Vega engaging the crowd with physical touch. Unfortunately, that vitality was lost in the vortex of Santos Party House. Still, I walked away from the night with a new appreciation for a band that I wouldn’t have normally gravitated towards, which, to me, is what a concert is all about.
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