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the 88 at troubadour

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Isn't it nice when a band lives up to its hype, and even makes you want to join in with the multitude crowing its praises?

Isn't it nice to go to a show and stand in a room where even the cool kids are smiling and look like they have had a weight lifted from their shoulders, bopping their heads in unison, their Bettie Page-esque dyed black bangs going all unruly, their lipstick (unused to sticking to lips frozen in such a wide smile) smearing on their teeth, their vintage jeans getting stained by the unnoticed bottle of booze they're spilling all over themselves as they sway happily to the music?

Isn't it nice when the members of the band standing on the stage above these jubilant masses are obviously talented, and are clearly enjoying themselves?

The 88 file on stage wearing suits, giving an initial impression of Nouveau-Brit which quickly dissipates once they start playing. They are undefineable; there is no gimmick. They're not lanky or pale enough to be ironic, and from what I gather, the suits solely play the practical role of unifying their diverse personal styles into a cohesive band "persona". They simply are what they are, if you will: Five guys in suits playing music. Just five guys in suits playing some of the most unpredictable, original, yet pop-concious music I have heard; consciously and intelligently retro, and very very good.

As they're working through their set I am struck by how genuine they seem. The keyboard player has an expressive face, full of contentment like a purring cat. The bassist periodically beams down at the audience. The lead singer screws his face with the effort of hitting those beautifully tremulous high notes, not even stopping to adjust the spectacles that inevitably slide down his nose towards the middle of every song. The guitarist lets his mop of hair fly, providing a strangely dynamic element to their overall look, and the drummer just goes for it. Everyone seems unaffected and involved in their music, which, after the rock posturing of many L.A. bands, is a wonderful thing indeed.

On a more pragmatic note: Their sound was sometimes strange and unpredictable, with the occasional unexpected beat change, but always lush, multi-layered, and inevitably with a deeper meaning than one might at first expect. As a band, they are well resolved, having obviously put a lot of work into their music, and having developed a distinctive sound that is both familiar and alien. Mainly, they play songs that make you feel good, drunk with the potential of musical genius.

So, they go through their set, leave the stage, and the crowd goes enthusiastically insane demanding an encore. They come back and do a high-energy American Bandstand-eque number, a cursory nod, no doubt, to their rock'n'roll predecessors. It inspires a whole new level of appreciation, and when they finally leave the stage for good, people start chanting "eighty-eight, eighty-eight".

The highlight of the show for me was "How Good It Can Be": a gorgeous and sweet song which belies the darker content of the lyrics (smuggling drugs through customs), and has come to symbolize, in my mind, the ethos of my generation.


VERDICT:
It is hard to write about a band that gets you in the gut. It is difficult to explain why you liked them, why their music is so good, why they had a sort of connection with the crowd. But once in a while you go to a show that leaves you feeling like you've just read a book by Kundera after months of Machiavelli. As esoteric as this may sound, this, for me, was The 88. I smiled through the whole show, and left the show humming a tune and feeling fantastic.