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Rogue Wave with Neil Halstead - Johnny Brenda's (Philadelphia, PA) - Friday, August 8, 2008

Rogue Wave @ Johnny Brenda's 8/8/08
10 August 2008

Although I was still feeling a bit sick and trying to get over a cold that had me not leaving the house for 3 days straight, we had tickets for this show and I really wanted to see ROGUE WAVE play an acoustic set in such an intimate setting as I knew it would be a great show. As it turns out, although I was still coughing and sniffly for part of the evening, I’m glad we went!

NEIL HALSTEAD of MOJAVE 3 and formerly of SLOWDIVE, opened the show. For part of the show, he just played solo on an acoustic guitar, but for about half of his set he was joined by a guitarist and a bassist., one of whom occasionally played mandolin as well. Although I’m largely unfamiliar with his discography aside from his solo debut Sleeping on Roads and the most recent Mojave 3 album Puzzles Like You, I have a feeling that I won’t be for much longer because I liked his set a lot. Initially, when I saw his name on the bill, I thought that he was a curious addition until I found out that like the headliners, JACK JOHNSON had signed him to his Brushfire label. I’m not a fan of Johnson’s music, but I’m glad that he’s using his fame to help out great artists without record deals. Like Rogue Wave, who were dropped by Sub Pop after 2 excellent but low-selling albums, Halstead’s (and by extension, Mojave 3’s) contract with 4AD ran out after their last record (the aforementioned, excellent Puzzles Like You), but Johnson came to the rescue. Anyhow, the set was mellow, but never boring. Honestly, it was gorgeous and I could’ve listened to his sweet voice for another hour, if not more. My fiancee said that his set reminded her of NICK DRAKE, though I thought of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s artists from California (NEIL YOUNG, THE BYRDS, DAVID CROSBY, etc.) that even Mojave 3’s very name evokes.

After a short break, Rogue Wave came on and started off with “Love’s Lost Guarantee”, my favorite song off of their excellent sophomore album Descended Like Vultures. The set just got better from there. The small, intimate feel of the show was markedly different from the last time we saw them play (also at Johnny Brenda’s, though that was a full-on electric set) as ZACH ROGUE and company were playing to a smaller audience this time around at this great venue. Perhaps this was because the show was only announced a week or so beforehand as a stop gap club show on both of these artists’ arena tour with Johnson, which would take them to the All Points West festival several days later. Zach explained that they wanted to book a real show with a crowd that actually knew their music and I say amen to that. As I said before, I have nothing against Jack Johnson, but these acts clearly belong in smaller clubs (despite the massive hooks on Rogue Wave’s records).

Anyhow, the set focused mostly on Vultures and last year’s equally excellent Asleep at Heaven’s Gate. For the last few songs, they brought up members of Philly’s indie-rock a cappella group THE SILVER AGES for some harmonies and oohs and ahhs on “Lake Michigan” (the closest thing they have to a hit, though it’s far from their best song) and the incredible “Chicago X 12” (their finest moment). To tell the truth, The Silver Ages really didn’t add that much to these songs as they would’ve been fine just with Rogue Wave themselves performing them, but their appearance on stage just added to the casual, living-room like feel of the performance. It reminded me a little of their show at Maxwells several years earlier opening for THE STILLS when they attempted to create that kind of atmosphere. I think they pulled it off better on this evening, though.

As if all this wasn’t enough, they came out for an encore and proceeded to play THE SMITHS classic “What Difference Does It Make”. To their credit, they re-arranged it to make it sound like one of their own songs, though that made it a little harder to sing along! Nevertheless, this cover followed by “Harmonium” (the opening track from Asleep at Heaven’s Gate) was a great ending to a great show.