"You can always tell if a band is good or not," my musician pal Sean says on a recent Wednesday night at the Knockout. "You look at the crowd's reaction. The proof is in the pudding," he adds, with a nod around the room. Working on that theory, the opening acts' puddings are pretty sedentary. The fifty people collected at the Mission dive are mostly chatting in their seats. Midway through the night, though, the energy palpably shifts. The bassist for one of the bands grabs an accordion and embarks on a stumbling waltz, shaking his squeezebox while wailing good-naturedly, "It's not about who is on top 'cause there's always a drop/Yes, there's always that drop/And if you ask me, that's no reason, no reason to stop."
He howls like a drunken groom at a wedding ceremony as he continues, "Let's get all that there is to be got, that there is to be had/No, we won't live forever, but that's not really so bad." The crowd howls right along. People aren't going to stick butt-to-barstool for long.
It turns out the bassist-turned-accordionist is playing a cover. The originators of this rousing barroom anthem, "Playing for Fun," are also the evening's headliners, a Fresno band called Rademacher. They give the room a second helping of the song during their set later in the night. By round two, however, everyone left in the bar is pressed close to the stage, singing along again and swaying in time. It doesn't matter that the modest ranks have lessened at this late weeknight hour. The members of Rademacher possess an immediate charisma, both as performers and as creators of dangerously contagious hooks. Watching them play, I feel the electric jolt that comes with discovering music your gut says is gonna be big.
The band's resonance comes in part because of the subtle familiarities in its music. The group's songs — available in three individually burned, hand-packaged EPs or through its MySpace page — offer hints of other ebullient indie-rock acts. "If U Got Some Magic," a track that strikes like a giant sunbeam burning through a moody heart, moves from giddy keyboard melodies to a breathless Arcade Fire call to action. The theme of patching over rough friendships is as overwhelmingly positive as the music behind it. "You're Never Gonna Hear from Me" is a Walkmen-esque ride, with keyboards and guitars swelling in unison until frontman Malcolm Sosa breaks out the commands: "Come on, stand a little closer/Don't wait until the party's over! ... Come on and stand a little closer to me/Don't wait until the ship falls into the sea!" Through all of Rademacher's tracks, Sosa leads his bandmates like a benevolent king, inspiring their spirited ah has, la las, and vocal harmonies. Here and there, elements of Modest Mouse's propulsive rock rhythms, Pavement's quirky songwriting tics, and Bright Eyes' vulnerable delivery glimmer through the tracks. But the influences are nuanced and subtle, working only to connect your memory to other bands you may love rather than distracting you with overt similarities.
If you've yet to hear of Rademacher (or to pronounce the name: raw-duh-maw-cur), the group is doing its damnedest to change that — in S.F., in Fresno, and in Los Angeles. The three-year-old band has spent the month of November doing an impressive triple residency — Wednesday nights at the Knockout, Thursdays at Tokyo Garden in Fresno, and Sundays alternately at Spaceland and Eagle Rock Bowling and Drinking Club in L.A. Sosa says the idea was to really connect with his demographic. "Sometimes when you play on the road, you can't tell, like, 'Oh yeah, those people really love us there,'" he says. "They only saw you for an hour and then you're gone. But when you come every week, hopefully you develop friends and give people a chance to hear the music and get used to the vibe of the show."
Rademacher may be an underground band, but its fans are helping its euphoric anthems break the surface. Four Los Angeles blogs — Radio Free Silverlake, You Set the Scene, Aquarium Drunkard, and Inflight at Night — each spent one Friday in November hosting a Rademacher song, boosting attention to the group. Meanwhile, other more established musicians are helping out, too.
Aaron Espinosa of L.A. indie popsters Earlimart is a Fresno native and a Rademacher supporter. He performed at one Silverlake residency and produced the group's debut full-length, Stunts, a self-released CD available through select record stores and online retailers on December 4. Espinosa has worked on music by Elliott Smith, Grandaddy, and the Breeders. He's also introduced Rademacher to cornerstones of the Silverlake scene like Silversun Pickups — another act that grew rapidly in popularity thanks to intrepid residencies. "It's like having older brothers," Sosa says of his L.A. counterparts, "and for the most part they try to look out for you."
Sosa is proud of Stunts, but he believes that for indie bands, the future is in either digital distribution or personalized CDs. "Trying to cut and print CDs is a waste of time, especially if you want them to look retail-ready," he says. "Why not get a bunch of CDs and wrap them in a crazy storybook from a thrift store and put ribbons around them and number them one to 100 and make something special?"
Rademacher doesn't need crafty packaging — or surprise accordion covers of its songs, for that matter — to sell listeners. That early-November Knockout residency buoyed the crowd while cementing my confidence that this group is something special. The proof is indeed in the pudding — and Rademacher's brand is golden as butterscotch.