Review: PAPA at the 9:30 Club

Rising LA pop/rock band PAPA performs live in DC. Photo: PAPA

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2013 – When a band’s de facto front man happens to be their drummer, the initial effect is inherently jarring. After all, a front man does the majority of the singing and more or less dictates the band’s presence on stage. That’s a real challenge if the front man is seated behind a set of drums. This can be done, of course, but it’s a rare sight.

For that reason, anyone who didn’t know much about PAPA going into their show—which opened for the Cold War Kids during their recent performance at the 9:30 Club—might very well have been surprised seeing drummer Darren Weiss belt out the band’s songs during the set.  It certainly proved to be a challenging thing to absorb during the show.

Your first image of PAPA on stage is that of a band that’s almost a novelty. Drumming is always the beating heart of a rock band. But when the drummer also doubles as the band’s lead singer, the band seems to draw a different kind of attention.

First and foremost, when the drummer is a band’s primary singer, his output comes from a much different physical location than the audience has come to expect. This mightn’t make such a difference in a smaller venue, but placement creates a different set of circumstances when a band like PAPA performs at a venue the size of the 9:30 Club, whose warehouse-like dimensions are high and deep.

So, having the band’s vocals originate from close to the back of the stage at the Club, forced them to travel through the rest of the band rather than front and center. The result is that PAPA puts out a sound that’s somewhat more subdued than one might expect.  It’s not clear if this is intentional. But at the 9:30 Club, at least, PAPA’s over all output almost sounded as if Weiss were singing inside a cave, an unusual effect that actually seemed to complement Weiss’s fairly deep-sounding vocals.

In turn, the effect of this sound on the rest of the band is striking, because the resulting sonic tapestry never allows the rest of the music to take a back seat to the vocals. For this reason, PAPA’s sound seems much more vibrant during a live performance. The guitar and keyboards especially stand out during their set, providing a light and airy shading to the sound. It’s this kind of sonic punctuation that gives PAPA its undeniable pop sense and classic feel.


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The two primary members of PAPA’s quartet are drummer Weiss and bass player Danny Presant. They began the band while at college in New York, but have actually known each other since their California childhood.

Weiss makes a number of claims about how much they came to be influenced by the energy they eventually found in New York, and it’s easy to see what he’s talking about on stage. PAPA plays loose and fast, and there’s an undeniable, East coast urban passion in their music even though they can’t entirely escape their California roots.

PAPA is a relatively young band, having just released their first full-length album Tender Madness. Yet in spite of their relative youth, it’s hard to ignore the total polish of the band. They’ve clearly worked hard at their craft. Yet for all their their talk about New York energy—which they have clearly absorbed—PAPA still feels in many ways like a California band, but one that’s developed up tempo, modernist pop sensibilities.

 


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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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