I had been experiencing a pretty intense week of live music and was feeling a tad spent by the time Film School’s show on Tuesday night appeared on my calendar. It was my undying love of shoegazer music in general and my appreciation for Film School’s latest album “Fission” that kept me going just long enough to crawl into DC9 for the show rather than collapse in an exhausted heap on my doorstep. Film School delivered a delightfully laid back set of dreamy music that provided the perfect sonic pillow for me to rest my tired ears on.
Film School hail from San Francisco and are led by singer/guitarist Greg Bertens, Over the years the line-up has changed many times, but since their previous album “Hideout” the band’s roster has been consistent with Lorelei Plotczyk on vocals/ bass, Jason Ruck on keyboards, Dave Dupuis on guitar, and James Smith on drums. Their latest album “Fission” presents somewhat of a new direction in sound for the band as they have crafted an album full of up-tempo, shimmering alt-pop after years of being known for insular, dark shoegazer music. The common thread between the back catalog and the new album is Film School’s textured guitars which are just as effects-driven as ever. So it was somewhat of a surprise to see Dave Dupuis missing from the band when they were setting up their gear on Tuesday night. Even with the absence of Dupuis’ second guitar, the show still provided plenty of the shoegazer guitar thrills for the modestly-sized audience.
Much has been written online about Film School’s varied influences and the bands or genres that they evoke on their albums. While I agree that their sound has evolved over the years, I feel that for the last several years their flag has been firmly planted in the shoegazer/dream-pop realm and has not waved into other genres nearly as much as some music press suggests. Tuesday night’s show was proof that not only are Film School part of this movement, they are one of its most pleasant bands to watch.
Musically Film School were on point. Bergen’s effects-laden guitar and Ruck’s keyboards combined to make a nice sound wall while Plotczky and Smith laid down the rhythms. While preparing for this show I listened to “Fission” and “Hideout” on shuffle and the exercise made me realize how distinct Plotczky’s bass playing is in the modern sheogazer landscape. I think rhythm is often sacrificed for more guitar force by a lot of other bands, but in Film School Plotczky is given the opportunity to really shine. Her bass work was even more impressive in concert. Plotczky is quietly becoming a real force in the band. At least half of the songs on the new album are centered around her lead vocals or incorporate her harmonizing with Gertens. Plotczky has a perfect shoegazer voice that gives the early UK shoegazer femmes a run for their money. Gertens’ vocals are a little more direct on the new album and in concert his singing lent most of the songs a pop feel. His guitar playing featured a nice balance of pop jangle and shoegazer scree thanks to a small army of effect pedals at his feet.
The set list on Tuesday night showcased “Fission”; but for two missing songs, Film School re-sequenced and performed the entire album. From “Hideout” we were treated to ‘Compare’, ‘Two Kinds’, and an amazing version of their nu-gazer classic ‘Lectric’. To close out their encore Film School busted out with a noisy version of ‘Breet’ from their self-titled album. Gertens seemed amused by the challenge of dusting off this older gem.
The atmosphere of this show was so casual and laid-back that it almost felt like we were hanging out with the band in their rehearsal space during a really tight practice. Gertens and Plotczky offered the crowd random bits of conversation like the show was no big deal. Their approach was so casual that the audience seemed at a loss how to react. The crowd was large enough to give Film School a decent welcome, but small enough to lack anonymity for whoever responded to the band’s questions. Film School’s casual nature translated into their performance as well; they played most songs to perfection but did little in the way of transitions or dramatic presentation. While normally I love that kind of larger showmanship, I felt that Film School’s “play a song then stop, play the next song then stop” presentation added to the relaxed feel of the show.
Film School’s performance on Tuesday was a delightfully mellow bliss-out. The show was so casual that I almost feel like we all became friends by the end of it. Film School may be a nationally known act but they brought a welcome down-to-earth personality to their show on Tuesday. Between the band’s pleasant nature and their blissful tunes, this concert was the refreshing break I needed to recharge my batteries before the intensity of the SWANS concert which I still had ahead of me on Wednesday night.