The Love Language at the Rock and Roll Hotel

The Love Language bring their '60s-flavored sound DC's Rock and Roll Hotel. Photo: The Love Language

WASHINGTON, August 23, 2013 — Is it easier to for a single entertainer to present a new music project as a solo act or with a full band? Does a full band give him a clearer focus on a specific agenda? Is it important for a singer-songwriter to create a distinction between himself and his accompanists?

These are all questions being posed during the Love Language’s recent show at the Rock and Roll Hotel. That’s because, despite outward appearances, the Love Language is very much a solo act in the guise a fully formed band.

Backstory: Stuart McLamb formed the Love Language while he was recording several demos for an ex-girlfriend. It wasn’t necessarily his intention to turn this session into a full time deal, as it was destined to be heard only by a few close friends. But, as in much of life, things never quite work out as initially planned. McLamb transformed these demos into an actual, ongoing project, which eventually included forming a band to realize his vision.

There’s nothing that really screams solo project when seeing that band, the Love Language, live on stage, other than the fact that this band maintains its clear vision whether on stage or on recorded material. McLamb remains the driving force and possibly the only force behind the band, however. That’s why, after three different albums, there’s still enough connective tissue between the songs to make this group’s sound absolutely seamless and distinctive.

McLamb and his band built up a sound that blends ’60s era flowery pop/rock with a dollop of modern indie rock flavor tossed in for good measure. McLamb also manages to experiment with a quirky psychedelic vibe, especially on the later recordings like those on “Ruby Red.”

One of the things he’s kept on from those early demos – which made up his first album – is an indie lo-fi that has an authentic, stripped down appeal that avoids the sense that it’s over-produced. This approach gets down to the basics of each song rather than attempting to give them a glossy polish. The end product serves to better emphasize McLamb as a musician and a creative force.

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The reason this is crucial is that it’s relatively hard to replicate that lo-fi sound in a live setting or at least exactly the same. The Love Language, as they performed at the Rock and Roll Hotel, still managed to put out its basic, stripped-down sound. But given the live venue, it seemed to come across more along the lines of traditional pop/rock. Performing live with the Love Language, McLamb doesn’t quite have the same slightly haunting echo he has on his recordings, with the result that the live performance tracks a bit differently than it does in the studio.

While this might seem to detract from the image the Love Language has built, though, it simply offers a different perspective on McLamb’s work. On stage at the Rock and Roll Hotel, the ensemble gives a greater emphasis to the effortless and airy pop melodies McLamb has crafted.  McLamb’s vocals are still atmospheric, but slightly clearer in live performance and the guitar and keyboard work throughout gain a good bit more clarity and focus.

Ironically, this emphasizes McLamb’s skill as a songwriter with greater clarity than the recordings, and makes his overall pop sheen much stronger and more addictive. One would think that this is the exact vision McLamb wanted out of the Love Language in the end, even if that might not have been his initial intention. In any case, that’s what he and his band achieved during their show at the Rock and Roll Hotel.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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