When Carla Azar broke her arm last year, doctors warned she might never play drums again. The 34-year-old percussionist for local band Autolux had jumped off the stage, tripped on a wire and crushed the ball of her elbow -- an injury that since has healed, thanks to surgery and eight titanium screws.
It wouldn't have been a bad way to end a career, considering the group had just finished three nights of warm-ups for Elvis Costello. But it might have marked the end of one of L.A.'s most promising young bands -- a trio that's built an enviable fan base with its languidly catchy guitar pop.
"I was scared, because it happened to be the worst elbow break any doctor I met with had ever seen," Azar said.
Tonight, the 3-year-old group will perform live for the first time in 18 months, opening for headliner Broadcast at the Troubadour.
With the retro electro sound showing signs of creative fatigue, and many rock acts lacking nuance or dimension, Autolux has taken the grace and energy of '90s indie rock and added artful electronic fuzz and flourishes that recall Sonic Youth, Can and the Jesus and Mary Chain.
The sound makes sense for the Autolux members, all of whom hail from moderately successful but now-defunct local bands of the last decade. In addition to Azar, who drummed with the pop act Ednaswap, guitarist Greg Edwards brings the grunge sensibility of his former group Failure. Singer/bassist Eugene Goreshter played with the rock group Maids of Gravity.
The three came together as Autolux in late 1999 and began playing live the following year.
Their first L.A. show was at the Silverlake Lounge in August 2000. Club booker Scott Sterling says the group was "just jaw-dropping." The trio, which was the first of four acts when it initially played the club, now headlines there and at other places, including the Knitting Factory, the Troubadour and Spaceland.
That doesn't mean the band minds sharing the bill. The group also has split the ticket with indie darlings Blonde Redhead and Girls Against Boys and will open later this month in New York for White Stripes.
"We like the idea of playing with different styles of music," said Goreshter, the soft-spoken vocalist who wasn't a singer until joining Autolux.
"You can't really know the full breadth of what people like, so to decide that I think this band is only going to have this kind of person in the audience is sort of ridiculous," added Edwards, 30. "You never know what percentage of that audience is going to be receptive to you."
That goes for T Bone Burnett, the Texas-born, L.A.-based country folk musician and record producer who's been an Autolux fan since the days when "there were only like 10 people in the audience," Goreshter said. Last year, Burnett signed the band to DMZ, the record label he recently founded with the filmmaking Coen brothers.
"We trusted him so much because he's a real artist, not just a label guy," Azar said. "We knew we could artistically have the freedom we wanted. It wasn't just talk."
At present, the group has only a short, but stunning, five-song demo to its credit. Its full-length debut will be out next spring. Until then, the band will make up for lost time.
"I really miss playing live," said Azar. "I miss it a lot."
Where: Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood
When: Today, 8 p.m.
Info: (310) 276-6168