For a city that inhabits nearly half a million people, Long Beach remains a curiously untapped touring market for the types of bands that have thousands of Facebook “likes,” and even more YouTube views. Of course, this is no provocative assertion. It’s a common topic of conversation among Long Beach’s more musically minded that the current lack of a proper venue deprives live-music connoisseurs of a pleasant bike ride down 3rd Street, as opposed to a gas-guzzling gridlock up the 101 North. Thus, Thursday’s sold-out Art Theatre appearance by of Montreal — the theatrical, genre-defying outfit from Athens, GA led by Kevin Barnes — comes with a burst of excitement and a glimmer of hope.
But does of Montreal signify a more fertile future for non-local live music in Long Beach? On the surface, the show’s Glass House promotion sparks optimism when taking into account the Pomona venue’s consistently solid calendar. Speaking with Glass House talent buyer and Long Beach resident Jon Halperin, however, it becomes clear that the event is more of a one-off. Halperin, who booked Thursday’s show as well as similar events in the past, articulates the requisite circumstances in making such an event happen: “I try to bring shows to the Art Theatre when I can, but my first priority is in Pomona and keeping the Glass House calendar full.” Moreover, Halperin explains that of Montreal set out to perform at “different” types of venues for their winter tour, and that the Glass House exited the equation since the band is also booked to play the nearby Barn at UC Riverside, in turn leaving the Art Theatre as an attractive alternative.
To be sure, of Montreal marks the fourth Glass House-promoted concert at the Art Theatre, all of which have filled the 380-capacity venue. Vampire Weekend made the first such appearance in 2009 as part of their mini-tour of California, deliberately mapped by the NYC band as a statement of the places that had informed the sound of their early 2010 album Contra. Interestingly enough, Vampire Weekend opted for a Long Beach date since it’s the town that Sublime helped make famous in the ’90s, an influence that makes sense considering Contra‘s beach-y vibes. The second and third shows, in 2011 and December 2013, were headlined by the Seal Beach-based Rx Bandits. The latter show crystallized due to the band’s desire to play an acoustic, Christmastime homecoming, and the desire of all parties involved to create something special for the community while supporting a successful local band.
In addition to the sporadic circumstances that have led to concerts at the Art Theatre in recent years, it’s also important to consider the role of a notably conscious selector in the planning process: the Art Theatre. Jan van Dijs, who spearheaded the restoration of the historical art-deco landmark in 2008, emphasizes that while he is open to the idea of staging more musical events akin to of Montreal, he is simultaneously “very selective about finding independent-minded bands, like of Montreal, like Rx Bandits,” that occupy what he calls “a certain sweet spot.” This “sweet spot” speaks to the broader independent spirit of 4th Street Long Beach, and van Dijs’s quality-over-quantity mentality strikes a positive chord not just for indie purists and the “culturally refined,” but for hopes that the establishment of the Art Theatre as a more commonplace destination for touring bands is getting off on the right foot.
Not to give the impression that all eggs should be placed in the Art Theatre basket. Not at all. For one, Fingerprints Records owner Rand Foster has regularly attracted marquee names over the years (last year, I was lucky enough to catch Yo La Tengo, Low, and the Colourist, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg of what Fingerprints offers). Despite the wealth of worthwhile events housed in Long Beach’s most renowned record store — and the unique intimacy these events present to fans — the in-store format still doesn’t satisfy the cravings for a proper show with full-length setlists, loud speakers, overpriced beer, and all. The reopening of the Vault 350 seems like a potentially fruitful remedy downtown, but the long-defunct space remains gutted and ways away from a public unveiling.
Perhaps the most promising recent development, the Prohibition-themed Federal Bar looks poised to make an impact in 2014 with the opening of its new Knitting-Factory-associated speakeasy, The Parlor (local favorites Dengue Fever had the honor of playing the inaugural night last week). Conjoined with established locales like Alex’s Bar, DiPiazza’s, and the myriad of small venues that provide a platform for the ever-vibrant local scene, things appear to be in motion. While Long Beach isn’t an entirely accommodating terminal for live music quite yet, a small-but-building pile of evidence indicates that this might change soon. Until then, go support the local scene.
of Montreal plays the Art Theatre Long Beach on Thurs., Jan. 23. Tickets are sold out. Stay tuned for a recap of the show later this week, and in the meantime, check out the NSFW video for “Fugitive Air” (the first single from last year’s Lousy with Sylvianbriar), as well the classic cut “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games” (from 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins).