We Love Music: The Submarines @ Black Cat, 4/28/11

Submarines @BlackCatDC-2
All photos courtesy of Paivi Salonen

I’m a pretty cynical guy, to say the least. It would be really easy for me to write off The Submarines for writing corny love songs. But I can’t.

I’ve seen plenty of bands that are too cool to acknowledge the audience; I’ve seen rock stars that act like gods. So it’s refreshing to see a band as humble and genuine as The Submarines. You could tell how excited the band was to play for us that night. They were pumped that they sold out the venue – the tiny, intimate Backstage at the Black Cat. I felt like we were the biggest audience they’d ever played for!

I mean, I’m sure we weren’t, considering their profile. The Submarines rocketed to fame by getting their songs into iPhone commercials, and TV shows such as Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy, and Weeds. Their synth-infused indie pop provides a background of optimism, although the cheery vocals mask the heartache hidden in the lyrics. It’s hard to ignore their similarities to The Postal Service – bright, well-crafted pop songs with male/female vocals.

Submarines @BlackCatDC-3

For the new album, instead of alternating vocals like they did on Honeysuckle Weeks, they split up their duties, with Blake taking the role of lead vocalist and John concentrating on the instrumentation. It plays to their strengths, for sure. John also writes for commercials outside of the band, and his strength in crafting catchy jingles definitely bleeds over into his Submarines work. The songs they covered off the new album, such as the bouncy track “Shoestrings” and drum-heavy “The Sun Shines at Night” were some of the most dynamic songs of the night.

They played all the hits from Honeysuckle Weeks too, like the single “You Me & The Bourgeoisie” and “Wake Up Song”. Blake’s vocals were loose, airy, and even more light-hearted than on the album. It’s always good to hear a band comfortable enough with their material to make subtle changes to the tunes without losing any cohesion.

Submarines @BlackCatDC-10

Blake seemed extremely friendly in her between-song banter. She expressed how happy she was to be there, and how excited she was about the new album. Occasionally she was too chatty – I am pretty sure I caught their bassist rolling his eyes while Blake told a (kind of boring) story about beautiful women on bicycles. (Not that I minded.) She mentioned that she was tired, but she brought plenty of energy to the show. I think there was good chemistry between the band and the audience, as her fans’ enthusiasm encouraged her to relax and actually enjoy performing. Sometimes you forget that, despite life on the road and the monetary pressures of being in a band, these folks actually love what they do.

So, I have a tendency to develop these temporary crushes on female musicians, whether it’s Alice Glass or Natasha Khan or the other usual suspects. Blake was no exception – I mean, how could you not fall in love with her? She seemed so sweet, so positive about everything, even heartbreak. I would let her break my heart, for sure. She seems like she loves life, no matter what comes her way. Like, if I said something mean to her, she wouldn’t even understand and would just smile it off.

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After closing their encore with “Xavia”, the band disappeared, only to reappear in front of the mob at the merch booth. They seemed overwhelmed by all the attention, by the fans begging for autographs – but they loved every second of it.

Submarines @BlackCatDC-13

Martin Silbiger

Martin moved from Atlanta to DC in 2007. He works as a software developer for Soundexchange, a non-profit royalty administration organization. A self-proclaimed metal snob, Martin loves bands that push into unexplored territory. He also writes about pop culture here.

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