Gardens & Villa
July 15, 2011
@ Cafe du Nord
Better than: Building yourself a DeLorean and going Back to the Future with Doc Brown. Actually, that may not be true.
"What're you taking notes for?" the lanky dude in the oversized fedora asked me, breathing light beer fumes in my face. "Just enjoy the music. Write it down later!" He gave me a significant look, a knowing smile on his face. Lucky me, I thought, receiving such valuable wisdom on a Friday night.
It was just one of many moments of a Friday evening at Cafe Du Nord that felt straight out of a movie -- formulaic, clichéd, but kind of funny all the same. My brain was continually vomiting pop culture references for comparison, beginning with the sunny warmup tunes from Oakland band HIJK and really catching fire with a solid set from Gardens & Villa.
The band, whose members met at UC Santa Barbara a few years back, have taken the '80s revival sounds of today's indie-pop scene and run with them. Really run with them, complete with Don Johnson-inspired Hawaiian shirts and synths galore. Featuring mostly songs off its new album, the band put on a captivating, if redundant show. These are tracks that start to sound the same after a while.
But Gardens & Villa is without doubt more effective live than on its album, which I consider an almost necessary part of a quality band. Gardens & Villa also invited mental comparisons to every John Hughes movie -- these nice-looking Santa Barbarians looked like the popular boys from Sixteen Candles playing a raging house party in Shermer, Ill.
And then there was the crowd. Friday's show was sold out, and it showed: I've never seen Café du Nord so crowded before. Packed with kids who had accidentally-on-purpose busted out their best '80s garb, I felt like I was with everyone I'd known in high school (and then I saw someone I hadn't seen since high school). The majority seemed to be there for Gardens & Villa, evidenced by the sudden full-court-press toward the stage. A blazer-wearing boy with a fauxhawk led the crowd in hand clapping, while everyone sang along to lead singer Adam Rasmussen's falsetto.
Credit must be given to Gardens & Villa's originality -- Rasmussen appeared onstage with a collection of wooden flutes strapped to his back, which he pulled from a couple times during the performance. The fans -- particularly the girls -- went into a frenzy at these moments, shrieking and dancing as he delicately posed on one foot, evoking Laurel Canyon and copious amounts of psychedelic drugs with every note. Or maybe the jazz flute scene in Anchorman.
Generationals, the ostensible headliner of this show, followed Gardens & Villa but found themselves facing a significantly smaller crowd. Although lesser in numbers, the audience members pushed to the front with an equally enthusiastic (and intoxicated) verve. The New Orleans band's guitar-driven brand of indie pop went over well in the small space, albeit with less frenzy than that of Gardens & Villa.
Gardens & Villa was even called out for an encore (a rarity for opening bands), during which it performed a dead-on cover of Gary Numan's "Cars," in case there was any question who its influences were. But it wasn't surprising that the underdog triumphed on Friday: We were in a John Hughes movie, after all.
By the way: I'm pretty sure we were in 1986, but I swear, one of the two synth players for Gardens & Villa was this guy from 1993's Airborne.