Leave it to up-and-coming young bands to bring previously unseen youths to Santa Barbara’s downtown. Thursday night’s White Arrows show, with openers Trails and Ways and Gantez, saw SOhO stuffed to the bricks with dancing twentysomethings equally confused by each others’ existence. I quote a concertgoer from earshot at the bar: “Who are all these people?”
It is, I think, an especially common feeling at indie rock or of-the-moment band shows, where an unspoken hesitancy about said moment-band’s worth — are they talented, or just cool, and which opinion favors me most? — palls over the room. White Arrows, a Los Angeles-based band representing something of a musical and visual identity crisis (who are they really?) on paper at least has all the right ingredients for a readymade millennial audience: bright synths and drum machines, Afro-Carribbean guitars, earnest vocals, vaguely mystical DMT-vision artwork. If you build it, the people will come, and this, the first night of their debut headlining tour, packed the house.
And to be sure, some of their songs were great, particularly the more rhythmic numbers. Songs like “Fireworks of the Sea” featured irresistible grooves, and showed a band that knows how to do smooth very well. Other times, however, White Arrows sounded more confused than certain; “Can’t Stop Now,” from their new album In Bardo, interjected almost nu-metal levels of guitar blasts over a soaring U2-type chorus, making for an unevenly loud hydra of a bland pop-rock song posing as psychedelia. White Arrows claim to be a lot of things, among them ‘psychotropic,’ but without the substance to shore up their shamanistic stylings; the reality is some of their songs just aren’t that interesting or good. The crowd pumped their fists, though, so White Arrows are obviously hitting all the right buttons on some level.
In a night of music that leaned towards the rock-tropical, it was the two openers — the rollicking surf rockers Gantez, from Costa Mesa, and the Brazilia-tinged harmonic four-piece Trails and Ways, from Oakland — that stood out. Gantez were real showmen, looking and sounding like a traveling tribe of deep South bluesmaking hellraisers, with the skills to boot; they seemed almost beamed in from another, rowdier era of classic rock. Props to them for delivering such a strong, fun show.
Trails and Ways were the real highlight of the night, both in audience reaction and performance. Whereas White Arrows pad their psuedo-tropical vibe with occasionally ill-fitting synths or rock ‘n’ roll bravado, Trails and Ways keep it simple, wrapping their songs with beautiful harmonies (all four of the band’s members shared vocal duties) and sparse instrumentation. Songs like “Nunca” brought to mind the sunny guitar lines of Zimbabwe’s Green Arrows and left not a still foot on the dancefloor. People begged for an encore at the set’s conclusion.
After the very vibrant first two acts, the pasty White Arrows, while still good, after a while felt a bit more like an epilogue than the main event. They would do well to pick a style and go all out, rather than the more decorative musical dabbling they seem to be doing. But if they helped bring together a crowd of young strangers to dance, bless them for it.
And perhaps coherence is beside the more important point of having fun. To conclude a night of confused identity, a group of students stormed my car as I left the parking lot, opened all the doors, and began to climb in, with one thinking I was someone she had met in the venue, and another thinking I was an Uber driver. I was neither, and they fled. Obviously they had had a great time, and so did I — whoever I am.