Published Aug 02, 2019"We don't get out here much," Stef Chura said to her Thursday night audience at the Biltmore Cabaret. A member of local openers Dadweed responded by joking about the tepid vibe farther northwest of Vancouver. But "tepid" describes the vibe of most of the show.
Last year, Dadweed released their debut LP, I Dreamt I Was Running; the album's central theme is being honest with oneself about mental health issues. At the Biltmore, the band hid nothing, playing power-pop with unbridled spirit. "Terra Firma" was about the crushing momentum of time, yet the song was more funny than depressing, despite lines like, "One day, we'll all be dead." Dadweed announced and played through a forthcoming EP, due in September. This led to a brief stretch featuring "No Cash," the closest thing they had to a crooner, and a song called "Ego Death," which demonstrated their continued devotion to self-reflection.
Next were L.A. art-punks French Vanilla, and if it weren't for them, this night would have been firmly steeped in the '90s. But they took cues from wiry bands like Bush Tetras and expressively stiff ones like Devo. With wailing saxophone, gummy bass, furious drum fills and pointy guitar, French Vanilla laid down feverish dance hooks. With barbed lyrics, singer Sally Spitz slashed and burned sexism in all its forms, as well as the power structures that bolster them.
No matter how exuberant French Vanilla were, though, they couldn't rouse the audience much. Spitz studied performance art at UCLA, and her urge to let loose was palpable. She swung between spoken word and shrieks, but she never fully leaned into her theatrical inclinations. Maybe she would have if the crowd reciprocated the band's energy. Not even French Vanilla's squealing rendition of ABBA's "S.O.S." did the trick.
Stef Chura raised the volume and the room's enthusiasm, though. Right away, the Detroit rocker's distinctive, crackling voice came to the fore on set-opener "All I Do Is Lie." Songs like this and "Method Man" hit with force. And although she can be aloof, that side of her came out in mini flares like "Slow Motion" and "Scream." She rocked so hard on "They'll Never," her guitar strap broke, and the band finished the song with her just singing. Okay, that's wishful thinking: In reality, she started her set with a twisted strap and decided not to fix it until her hardware malfunction.
It was cathartic to hear Stef Chura crank angsty personal anthems, but some of her best songs were slow-burning quiet riots, like "Eyes Without a Face" and "Sincerely Yours." Her solo performance on "Love Song" was another highlight. Still, though, her best showing was "Sweet Sweet Midnight." It's her ultimate torch song, written about her best friend's passing.
The bands' energy and the audience's energy were at odds for most of the night. In the end, though, the clash was fitting, given the push and pull of anger and indifference and scathing explosiveness and tender introversion of Stef Chura's music. And in the DIY spaces that Dadweed and French Vanilla are accustomed to, they are guaranteed to shine as much as Stef Chura did at her headlining show.