When Martyrs frontman Kyle Nicolaides picked up his guitar at Muddy Waters last Monday night, it felt more like a homecoming party than a show. He greeted about half of the crowd by name, half-jokingly asking a few girls he knew to come sing along with him. You got the feeling that there were inside jokes from high school being passed around. And Nicolaides seemed content to be back in his hometown, referring to the show as “beautiful disaster,” a combination of good people and faulty equipment.
He went on after a set by L.A.-based singer-songwriter Natalie Angiuli and her band. The show was the beginning of a short tour to support her debut recording, Sometimes. Always. Never., which boasts eight tracks of earnest, sincere folky pop. The set might have been a bit too earnest at times, but Angiuli doesn’t write pretentiously. Instead, her lyrics convey a searching quality that is simultaneously endearing and limited by its youthfulness. There is real potential here, though, and the CD is worth picking up for its art design alone, created by Los Angeles artist Luke Dobron. Angiuli’s unreleased material also seems to be pointing to that potential — the best song of her set, “Vegas,” was free of any sophomoric lapses. It sounded smooth, refined, and grown up, which is pretty high praise for an artist who isn’t even old enough to drink.
After Angiuli’s set, Nicolaides played an album’s worth of new material. Most of the songs were from his upcoming, still untitled full-length, which is due out “anytime.” A standout of the night was “Howl,” which layers gritty rhythms over a thumping beat, reminiscent of a more radio-friendly Black Keys. When I asked him if there was a theme recurring through his new record, Nicolaides gave me a sharp punch in the chest. “That’s where I want to hit people with it,” he said. “That’s all I care about right now; hitting them where it matters.” The new songs had a calculated emotionality to them, a combination of Nicolaides’ visibly maturing craft offset by his artistic roguishness.
Monday night was worlds apart from Nicolaides’ recent L.A. shows, where there are usually a few industry suits in the audience. He’s not trying to hide the fact that he wants to make it in the music business, but for one night at least all that comes along with the word “industry” was forgotten. There was only the coffee and the music and the feeling that somebody somewhere was home.