Post-glam spunk with Oliver Future
Brian Dowell
1/15/2006 10:56:28 PM

Oliver Future
The Viper Room--West Hollywood, CA
January 9, 2005
Official Website

Occupying prime real estate in the middle of the famed Sunset Strip, the Viper Room is noteworthy to people of my generation for two non-musical facts: First, it was started and originally owned by the thinking woman's heartthrob, Johnny Depp. Second, yet another seemingly intelligent heartthrob, River Phoenix, died of a drug overdose in the club's doorway. Nowadays, the venue is no longer the hip hotspot that it once was. Depp sold his stake in the Viper Room, moved off to France, and currently vamps his way through mediocre films based on rides at Disneyland. River Phoenix is better known to audiences these days as the brother of that guy that plays Johnny Cash. And Cash once recorded a few tunes onstage at the Viper Room, thereby completing the circle of life.

I've lived in the Los Angeles for about five years now, and never ventured inside the notorious music venue until this Monday night showcase by the Texas band, Oliver Future. The interior of the Viper Room is much smaller than I ever pictured it would be, consisting of a crowded room little bit bigger than the size of the average Los Angeles condo, with a big oval stage, in a corner and a long bar along the east wall that featured a crappy selection of overpriced beer. It's the kind of place where if you're tall like me, you feel like no matter where you're standing, you're in everyone's way. The club does feature a few comfortable looking booths, but with some kind of weird caste system; there are some that get to sit in a booth, but most people do not. As soon as I saw this, I knew I'd be standing all night.

By the time the show started, the Viper Room was completely packed thanks to heavy promotion on a popular local radio station. When this club is crowded, there's literally no room to move around. This is probably why River Phoenix died outside the Viper Room--there was no room for anyone to drop dead inside.

The show started with an energetic set by the trio, Millenial Soundwave. Their songs weren't exactly groundbreaking, but their commitment and their obvious love for their music helped bring the large crowd to life.

Unfortunately, this momentum didn't continue all night, mainly due to the efforts of the evening's second band, The Ringers. The musicians in the group seemed to be going for a Strokes-type garage band vibe, while their vocalist and front man prowled around the stage like a bad Las Vegas Freddie Mercury impersonator. The audience seemed more confused by this spectacle than inspired. Their set was slightly less annoying to me when the lead singer picked up a guitar and started strumming songs with titles like "Moanin' Bitch." But then he put down the guitar and the inappropriate strutting and preening began anew. They must be given a small amount of credit for committing to whatever it was they were trying to accomplish, but that's about all the credit they deserve.

Following all this wasn't easy. But luckily, the evening's headliners, liver Future, was up to the task. A quintet featuring an unassuming, Flying 'V' strumming singer with a great fake English accent and other musicians that look like they belong in an emo band, Oliver Future features an odd assortment of heavy 80s synth keyboards and interesting, layered, guitar hooks. As a rock and roll writer, first hearing a band, I always look for influences, which is a cheap way to capture a band's sound using mere words. This was a difficult task at first. I started writing unlikely combo--perhaps if early Radiohead covered Led Zeppelin tunes. or if the Butthole Surfers tried to play soft love songs, they'd sound a bit like Oliver Future.

Then the band made my task a bit easier when they did a pitch-perfect cover of one of David Bowie's best tunes, "Starman". That's when I realized that the band's true influence came from keyboard-driven glam rock. Their name even sounds like it could be one of Bowie's early onstage personas. The band lacks Bowie's great sense of theatre, but instead focuses on what they've learned from listening to his music (which is preferable to some of his drama queen posing and personality quirks) and takes it in some interesting new directions. This is the rare smart band that also rocks out, and that's a gratifying thing to see in this day and age.

Oliver Future are doing what's called a "residency" with the Viper Room, which basically means that they'll be playing there every Monday night. If this show was any indication, they're well worth checking out. It's nice to have a good reason to visit the pop culture landmark such as the the Viper Room that doesn't involve the morbid history of doomed movie stars.


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