When singer and Gibson hollow-body strummer Nick Waterhouse introduced one of his songs as "the B-side to a 45" during his record release party, you'd have been forgiven for briefly thinking the entrance to the American Legion Post 43 in Hollywood may have opened into another decade. Well, at least at first glance.
Wearing horn-rimmed glasses, a smart suit and well-trimmed short hair that got mussed when he soloed, the young Los Angeles artist and his eight-piece band looked ripped from history as they pushed through a dozen-plus songs, many from his new album "Holly." A few perfectly picked cover songs further emphasized his points.
And what points were those? That one doesn't require a distortion pedal, an oblong haircut and/or a beard to rock. In addition, that one need not pump the volume to the extremes of, say, My Bloody Valentine, Deafheaven or Motorhead to deliver an intense wall-of-sound experience.
And, crucially, that technological evolution like the newest Ableton software and a laptop-to-brain interface does not render past stylistic innovations moot, or make them less danceable. Swinging is swinging, no matter what you feed your signals through.
His band took a few songs to get to full speed on Friday, and truly set the cavernous Legion hall's dance floor ablaze when moving into songs from "Holly," a moody, assured throwback that ups the beat while serving as a reminder that pre-hippie '50s and '60s rock was tight, hard and intense.
Waterhouse's show of intensity arrived through an incendiary combo of momentum-building saxophones, two fantastic backing singers, a three-man rhythm section and dueling keyboards and guitars. At their best, the five men and four women rode a grand, Spector-esque wave, punctuated with start-and-stop pacing, a love of musical space and Waterhouse's utilitarian voice singing structured three-minute rockers.
Opening with songs from his debut album, "Times All Gone," including an ace version of the Troggs' gem "I Can Only Give You Everything," Waterhouse cut a striking presence. Handsome in a National Merit Scholar kind of way, he's not Jerry Lee Lewis-crazy onstage but a natural nonetheless, standing front and center with a guitar like a well-coiffed '60s Eddie Haskell intent on proving his bona fides while rhythm reverberates.
Among the best was "Dead Room," which featured a soul-heavy groove driven by keyboardist J.T. Thomas. On "Sleeping Pills," conga player Andres Renteria offered rhythm while Waterhouse conveyed the story of a sleep-induced vision and his singers dotted the recollection with eerie "I had a dream" lyrical support.
"High Tiding," the kickoff to 'Holly," had the vibe of a lost Roy Orbison moaner, even if Waterhouse is hardly as awesome a crooner. With a crawling, reverb-heavy vibe and Waterhouse's precise, restrained guitar lines that he personalized with quick, single-stroked strums, the band played it with a resonant depth, filling the spaces without overdoing it. A cover of garage rocker Ty Segall's "It #3," polished the original's grit with brass, beat and backing singers.
Elsewhere Waterhouse and company went fast, most convincingly during his grand dance number "This Is a Game," the album's first single. While they drove quick-tempoed verses and choruses, pockets of space opened at the rear of the dance floor as couples paired and spun. Behind them, the more casual L.A. dudes and their preoccupied dates danced using only their necks and noggins, leaving room for the real dancers.
Near the end of the set, Waterhouse delivered "Pushin' Too Hard," the classic burner by the Los Angeles garage rock band the Seeds. Though far less menacing than Sky Saxon and company's original, Waterhouse's beefy, brass-filled rendition confirmed that a timeless song, like a resonant sound, can rise anew at any given moment. So can inspired artists.