About 60 people or so turned up at the Black Cat backstage Monday night to see what two well regarded Swedish rockers had to offer in combining their talents as We Are Serenades as they kicked off a US tour in DC. It turned out that indie rockers Adam Olenius of the Shout Out Louds and Markus Krunegard of Laakso were interested in making fewer fuzzed out sounds with their guitars and instead seek to build sweet harmonies armed with a largely twee-pop repertoire of… well, serenades.
The five-piece band certainly did not abandon guitars, however, as Olenius and Krunegard demonstrated the strength of their concept by trading off vocals and sharing guitar duties. But they were augmented by a keyboard, a synthesizer and drums as they offered up about 10 songs largely about being in love and appreciating nature. The two vocalists looked comfortable with their material and the five-member band seems poised for larger spaces. Olenius and Krunegard were easygoing and earnest and their vocals were perhaps the most crystal clear I’ve ever heard in the back of the Cat, making for a wholly pleasant listening experience. While all quite twee, their songs ranged a bit from familiar guitar rock numbers to more dance pop selections.
For me in their better moments, We Are Serenades get a little new wavey, almost sounding a bit like their countrymen in The Mary Onettes, although without the urgency and full-throated crooning that characterize the older band. We Are Serenade’s full-on dance number “Weapons,” for example, has a bouncy new wave synthline that makes for a pleasant distraction but it still politely invites you to come dancing rather than forcefully compelling you to do so. Their latest single, “Criminal Heaven” (which is the title track from their debut record), provides more opportunities for the duo vocalists to harmonize, which they do surprisingly well, and to generate more guitar pop.
In preparation for their tour, We Are Serenades put out some cute covers on YouTube to highlight their tour destinations, including Washington, DC by the Magnetic Fields. In concert, they did a surprisingly respectful cover of “Ride Like the Wind” by Christopher Cross. While it was a bit jarring to hear (only because it was so unexpected), We Are Serenades put their own twist on the yacht rock classic by sticking to their own sound in their interpretation, which is kind of what you should do when covering a song so well recognized.
Monday night’s audience didn’t really know what to expect from the band, so perhaps a third of them called it a night after half the set. But given how well like-minded bands like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart have done in recent times, We Are Serenades have plenty of space to grow their audiences.
While I started out by chatting about the main event, I would be remiss not to say a few things about concert openers Bike Trip because trippy they are. The experimental punk quartet had a low-fi sound that moved from funky to punky while being a little herky jerky here and there. The locals, whose banter would lead you to believe they hail from San Luis Obispo, sound quite a bit like a DC-based cross between a very experimental Vampire Weekend and a very young Devo. They banged out about nine songs, sticking largely to a signature sound that was occasionally made up of frenetic bits of rolling guitar and bass punctuated with strong drumbeats only to lapse into long lazy pauses.
Their most interesting song, “beautiful,” plays a bit like a twangy protest song against love over a radio interview sample. Otherwise they spend a lot of time being wistful about love and loss and growing up a bit but they do so in an interesting off-kilter way with an art-punk flourish. They seem to have a bit of a following already and they could grab even more attention with a bit of polish. Check them out the next time they play at the Black Cat, the Rock and Roll Hotel or the Red Palace.