It was a particularly quiet Wednesday night in Williamsburg as French Style Furs, the Cold War Kids–We Barbarians-sprung supergroup, was set to play their sixth-ever live show, and unless more dates are announced soon, their final one too. The Brooklyn-by-way-of-California trio were introduced to the world as part of a June weekly residency at Los Angeles venue The Satellite, before making their way over to Mercury Lounge and Rough Trade this week. The Rough Trade show served as an album release party of sorts, with their full-length, Is Exotic Bait (Frenchkiss), having dropped just a day prior. Unless fans had been to all five of their previous shows and spun the record for 24 hours straight after its release, there was no way that they could really be all too familiar with French Style Furs’ material. But that didn’t stop them from dancing and cheering like the trio had been their favorite for years (likely, for a big chunk of the packed room, because Cold War Kids or We Barbarians actually were).
The night opened with Modern Vices, a young garage rock band from Chicago. It’s always difficult to be the first act on a three-band bill for a variety of reasons, none more pertinent than the simple fact that the vast majority of the headliner’s fans are reluctant to get to the venue over two hours early to hear you play. This was certainly the case for Modern Vices as they opened their set with Smoke Rings (off their upcoming self-titled debut LP) to a room of about 15 people. The small crowd was very supportive however, and grew exponentially as Modern Vices ripped through their blend of post-punk, garage, surf and early-00s indie, all while maintaining a throwback vibe reminiscent of California skate park hangers-on in the seventies.
For a band whose oldest member is likely not over 22, Modern Vices have an uncanny comfort and charisma on the stage, especially given that this is their first trip to New York and they were opening for a group whose members have been consistently in the rock spotlight for a decade. Notably, lead singer Alex Rebek, with a full head of curly, puffy hair to his shoulders, catches most of the attention on stage and works the room with a little bit of a Jim Morrison type thing going on. Highlights of the set included Cheap Style, which got most of the half-full room dancing, and a great cover of the Misfits classic Hollywood Babylon. Modern Vices certainly have a bright future, and are fortunate to have the guidance of Autumn Tone Records, who recently launched the Orwells to the top of a similar scene.
The next group to hit the stage was New York’s own SACCO, the jammiest of the night’s three acts, bringing a carefree aura to the stage. The bass player and guitarist frequently alternated instruments and lead vocal duties, and the band went on without a setlist, instead choosing to read the room and decide what was best to play. SACCO’s sound falls somewhere between a soulful and/or punky take on alternative rock, which can get a bit sloppy at times, but ultimately results in a pretty interesting and eclectic sound. The guys seemed happy to finally be playing in their hometown, as frontman John Fredricks joked about how nice it was to be able to take a cab home from the gig. The guys won’t be getting too comfortable in New York though, as they’re already in the middle of preparing to tour the country this fall with Delta Spirit.
Finally, a little after 11, French Style Furs hit the stage. From the beginning it was clear that while the trio comes well armed with an arsenal of backing musicians, the project is really a two man show, with Cold War Kids’ Nathan Willett and Matt Maust front and center throughout the duration of the set. Maust particularly brought an unexpected flair to the stage that was almost a little like Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers if he toned down his act tenfold and put on a shirt. French Style Furs bring a bit of a darker sound to the stage than Cold War Kids, with Willett certainly showing off more vocal range, but oddly the tracks also feel a lot more danceable. At least the fans thought so. By the time French Style Furs went on, the room was packed with diehard fans. It was also clear that Willett and Maust were using French Style Furs as a chance to do a little more experimenting than they do in Cold War Kids, adding a percussionist, a three-piece horn section, two female backing vocalists and even an extra guitar to the fold, resulting in a total of ten musicians on the cramped Rough Trade stage by the set’s finale. They played almost everything off of their new LP, with the highlights coming from lead single Turn or Burn, the down-tempo, horn-heavy Miami U R About 2 B Surprised, and the set’s closer, Solitary Light, that comes equipped with a perfectly saucy bass line and a very smart use of the signature vocal style Willett has become famous for.
The night’s biggest surprise came after Willett reminded the audience that all of the lyrics on Is Exotic Bait come from the poems of Thomas Merton, going on to say, “This one is not Thomas Merton, it comes from another poet, an indie pop poet,” before going into a saucy, bluesy rendition of Iggy Pop’s 1977 hit Nightclubbing. Overall, the audience could not have been more enthused with the set, and French Style Furs gave strong performances of all of the LP’s highlights during a relatively short set that clocked in at just under an hour. As previously mentioned, French Style Furs currently has no future plans for live gigs going forward, but this is certainly an act the rest of the country deserves to see.