There was indeed much anticipation for Los Angeles band, PAPA’s headlining gig at The Independent on Friday, May 23. The promise of frontman, Darren Weiss’ powerful drumming and ocean-deep vocals was a double-threat treat rare on any concert stage. The band did well to deliver a good time to the packed venue, though the length and breadth of this band’s full prowess was not met.
They kicked off on a strong note with “If You’re My Girl, Then I’m Your Man” a rousing live rendition that warmed the crowd nicely. When the song ended, the crowd were greeted with “Good evening, we’re called PAPA. How are you?” As always happens with a popular headliner - the floor which was rather fluid not long before when Oakland band, and brother-and-sister-act The Tambo Rays were doing their light summery-jams, suddenly had no elbow room to sip a cocktail.
Weiss was met with an enthusiastic response from the floor and we were rewarded with a new song, “Eat My Radio”. It didn’t hit the same mark as the following track, “Let’s Make You Pregnant” a favorite from their debut EP, “A Good Woman Is Hard To Find”.
The heart of the band is duo Weiss and bassist, Daniel Presant who are a formidable rhythm section on stage and write some worthy Springsteen-inspired tunes off-stage with great hooks, a refined sense of melody and a largesse sound. Tonight, they were joined on stage by guitarist, Jake Munk and keyboardist, Ben Usen.
The drumming wasn’t as ferocious as you’d hope, perhaps something to do with how the drums were set up on stage - each musician front and center in an almost straight line. Presant though seemed totally entranced with the bass lines he was kicking, grooving around the stage as he plucked those strings, pulling an ever-so-cool bass face.
“Young Rut” with it’s chorus of “I know you’re scared for your father/And your scared for your mother/But it’s just your turn to run,” and collective “ooh-oohs” was intoxicating but again failed to completely sweep you off your feet.
Weiss delivered a heartfelt thank you after the slower-paced “Ain’t It So” saying “We are at the start of a month-and-half-tour and I can’t think of any fans better to spend it with.” The band clearly have a strong following here, perhaps due to Weiss' stint as a drummer for the once popular but now defunct SF band, Girls. Weiss does well to reciprocate the love at one point calling out, “can we get all the high lights out for the people. I want to see my people” and when the lights do come on, “Oh fuck San Francisco, you’re beautiful.”
It’s the kind of stage banter that came across as genuine and had the floor in his palms by the final keys of “Put Me To Work”. They returned after the final song with an encore of Pat Benator’s “Love Is A Battlefield”, ending with “I Am The Lion King” where Weiss invited all their fans on stage.
There was slight pandemonium as the guitarist was unable to start the song with the rest of the band as fans crowded round him, some attempting to talk but Munk soon caught up and the night ended on a high note.
I was disappointed that they chose not to do the latest single, “I’m Not Sorry”. Perhaps Weiss might have needed to step away from drum duty to do justice to the unapologetic love song. But that would have left that post vacant. Maybe a lot of the songs that require vocals and emotions to be laid bare would have benefitted from Weiss’ only serving vocal duties – the way I imagine the studio album tracks were recorded, with drums and vocals laid separately.
It's a shame as Weiss' vocals has the unique potential and baritone depth of The National's Matt Berninger. Yet, this was the first date of their current tour and they may soon hit their collective stride. Whatever the shortfall, PAPA is without a doubt big on talent and it would be churlish to not just hop along on this, their ascendant ride. And you can be sure this band will be going places.
If You’re My Girl then I’m Your Man
Eat My Radio
Lets Make You Pregnant
Ain’t It So
Put Me To Work
Love is a Battlefield
I Am The Lion King