By Allyson Bills
Phoenix’s locale is special in that bands from L.A. are either playing their first tour show or the last one before heading home. Gardens & Villa were doing just this on Tuesday night at the Crescent Ballroom. The L.A.-by-way-of Santa Barbara dance pop band played the first show of their U.S. tour supporting their new album, Music For Dogs. The first show of the tour is typically the show where the band works out the kinks in time for their upcoming dates. The crowd in Phoenix had the privilege of as vocalist, guitarist, flutist Chris Lynch told them that they are “witnessing history.”
The above meant seeing some bold moves pulled off in terms of set-list composition by Gardens & Villa. They took the stage around 10:05 p.m. in front of the sparse crowd, wearing all white with random drawings on their jeans, to a fairly well-lit stage This was surprising to me because they usually have some sort of light show. Gardens & Villa opened with “Maximize Results,” technically the first track off Music For Dogs, if you count the album’s intro as the first track. In terms of the song off the album, it was an appropriate song to open the set with because it’s a quick, dancy number with a guitar build-up from vocalist Lynch that ends with a bang. “Maximize Results” sounded way better live than the album. Unfortunately, the crowd didn’t share my sentiments.
In a sense, I don’t blame them because Gardens & Villa’s first four songs were off their new album, which was only released less than a month ago. This isn’t enough time for the fans to get fully acquainted with a new album. “Everybody” from Music For Dogs was a piano-heavy track highlighting Lynch’s trademark falsetto vocals. Also from Music For Dogs, “Fixations” had some nice backing vocals from Adam Rasmussen and bassist Shane McKillop with a guitar solo at the end from Lynch. As well as another new song, “Paradise” sounded just like its name - very dreamy, with the rhythm section of McKillop’s and drummer Dustin Ineman taking the lead.
It was a radical move by Gardens and Villa that didn’t pan out because the crowd around me appeared to be disinterested a majority of the time. Music For Dogs is a dramatic departure from their previous efforts, and the audience simply hasn’t adjusted to their new material. Lynch’s trademark flute was nowhere to be seen and heard thus far in the set.
To make things awkward, especially early in the set, Lynch talked about the storm in L.A. earlier today and how homeless people were washed away in the L.A. River. Even the audience found Lynch’s banter a bit off with one person asking, “I thought it was going to be a happy story.” There were no happy stories to be told by Lynch in the set, despite the crowd’s request.
The L.A. River story enabled Lynch to get on a roll with even more strange banter before going into a cover of “Only A Shadow” by The Cleaners From Venus, a British Band that has been around since the early 1980s. He mentioned to the crowd that The Cleaners From Venus are his favorite band “because we’re from Venus.” The crowd looked pretty bored during the song. However, they reacted positively after the song’s ending than any of their first four songs of the set so far.
The crowd was looking for some familiarity, and they finally received their wish mid-set with “Black Hill,” a mid-tempo piano track from their 2011 self-titled debut album. It seemed to be that Gardens & Villa were still comfortable playing with their older material. However, I almost didn’t recognize them going into “Spacetime,” also off their self-titled album, because the song relied more heavily on Lynch’s guitars than this flute on the album. In this song, Lynch finally sang some with some conviction, something that was often missing in previous songs. When Lynch screamed one of the lyrics in “Spacetime,” the crowd went wild. I even saw some guy jumping up and down. Finally, some life at the show.
Lynch must have realized this as well because after the song, he addressed the audience that we were all “intimately connecting.” This energy carried into “Bullet Train” off their album Dunes. However, the intro was unrecognizable live because this song relied heavily on Lynch’s guitar, and no flute. The crowd’s attentiveness was short-lived because they look bored throughout the song.
The L.A. River was still on Lynch’s mind, even towards the end of the set. With that being said, he finally busted out his flute, and the crowd was ecstatic. Finally, we have another piece of the band that bred familiarity between the band and the crowd. I don’t understand why it took so long for Lynch to get out his flute near the end of Gardens & Villa. Better late than never, I guess. Lynch later admitted that “a bunch of stuff got stolen” and only had a few left. Maybe this explains why he had the flute later in the set? Who really knows?
With that being said, the flute warmed the crowd’s heart on “Domino,” the first track off Dunes. It brought even more life in the set. It was evident that the crowd missed the flute because of how wild they were going during Lynch’s flute solo, to the point some guy in the crowd screamed, “Keep the flute moving!” Unfortunately, the flute was short-lived.
Lynch blamed Gardens & Villa’s less-than-stellar set and issues with this guitar due to the “weather change.” The band closed out their initial set with songs from Music For Dogs with “Express,” an 80s-inspired dance tune and “Alone in the City.” Lynch said with “Express” that tonight was the first time they played this song live. “Alone in the City” is the best track off Music For Dogs, albeit one of their slower songs, and has an amazing buildup at the end with the guitars and Rasmussen’s synthesizers.
Much to my surprise, the crowd was excited to welcome back Gardens & Villa for a three-song encore. Where was this energy and interest during the show? Still possibly thinking about the L.A. River, Gardens & Villa kicked off their encore set with a Kinks cover, “Waterloo Sunset.” Ironically, this song drew the biggest reaction from the crowd, more so than their original material. Then came “I Already Do” off Music For Dogs, “a song about losing friends as you grow older,” with a lovely keyboard solo from Rasmussen. It was surprising to see the extent to which the crowd was dancing during this sad song!
Gardens & Villa closed their less than hour-and-a-half set with “Orange Blossom” off their self-titled album with another flute solo from Lynch. The crowd was clapping heavily to the flute solo, and didn’t want this show to end. However, it was a little too late.
Last night was not the best Gardens & Villa set that I have witnessed. I have seen this band every time they have tour Phoenix. While I understand that the band toured the hell out of both their previous self-titled album and Dunes; however, it’s not wise to play nearly an entire set of just-released songs. There needs to be some familiarity for the crowd to latch-onto. The first tour date is always the time for a band to find their bearings, or in this case, for Gardens & Villa to come off Venus. Hopefully, both the band and crowd will be more comfortable with the new material for whenever the next show in Phoenix.