To see Calpurnia live is to see two things--a young, green band with lots of energy and talent and not a ton of control of their performance, and the youth of San Francisco out in full force. This was a fascinating people watching extravaganza.
[Ed. Note: In other words, one of the dudes from 'Stranger Things' played the Fillmore with his band the other day. This is what it's like to be there.]
Of course, the performance skill and control will come as they continue to perform. Most bands as green as they are (Calpurnia’s library boasts just 6 songs on their first EP, and each one has been released as a single) have the luxury of playing for no one for months or years in small clubs and venues to hone their craft, but because of the new star power of front man Finn Wolfhard, of Stranger Things and It, no such anonymity was given to Calpurnia, who is playing good sized venues of this size all around the country. The result is an interesting blend of a band with masterfully produced recordings that sound pitch-perfect to the relaxed, hipster-cool vibe they’re emulating, with a performance that just doesn't measure up... yet.
Onstage, Wolfhard is a charismatic leader, and lead guitarist Ayla Tesler-Mabe is destined to be one of the shredding guitar queen greats. But overall, the performance is marked by too many solos and too much awkward banter. For the record, these solos do also turn up on the recorded tracks. Every. Single. One. You really can’t fault them because they’re teenagers with a legendary podium like the Fillmore to rock out on, but it makes one tilt ones head a bit at the power of fame to transcend trial and error.
Calpurnia is the dictionary definition of what will be a huge group one day. Finn has a great voice. His backing vocals on songs like “Louie” are tailor made to be sung by a crowd, and their emulation of a mix of classic rock acts is the perfect soundtrack for the generation that's obsessively buying vinyl and shopping at Urban Outfitters. The formula--complete with parental chaperones and teenagers sporting the same über chunky sports footwear--has worked, and these kids, along with their parents, have turned out in full force. I saw one write-up about this show where the writer says he was surprised by how little phones were up in the audience, but I had a completely different reaction. I have never, ever seen so many phones in the air at a concert. The reaction to Calpurnia was similar to what I imagine Beatle Mania must have been like--loud, deafening screams and overall fandom that were capped with a tiny bra being thrown onstage.
Spectacle aside, I really, really dig that these teenagers are coming out in droves for live music, and also that the band they’re putting on a pedestal is made up of kids their own age. I remember when I was that age; everyone I was cheering for was at least 30. Having heroes like this will probably do wonders to encourage more kids with musical dreams to go for it because they can literally see that someone their own age is up there. To their credit as well, the band’s banter sounded really sweet in their awkwardness. And dang, I love that boppy garage rock is trendy now. Maybe the resurgence of this sound will create or rejuvenate a new generation of rock n’ roll as the massive migration to electronic sounds continues.
Calpurnia is destined to be a great festival circuit band as they continue to hone their craft, and I’m excited to see what a band that has this raw talent and resources is able to accomplish in what’s sure to be a long career. They’re capturing a moment that they'll hopefully continue to ride while still evolving their sound as they grow.