Live Review: Bent Knee, The Bootleg Theater LA, 5th Aug 2017

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You wouldn’t think much of the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles if you were to merely walk past. Sitting in a neglected neighborhood of the city, the Bootleg barely boasts a front: just a building, with one door, with red marquee letters reading “Bootleg”. Congregating outside the venue before being let in provided me with an opportunity to speak with fans and, as a new fan myself, get to know the band from admirers, friends, and family alike. The overwhelming recurring response that was shared was that this band was electric; an absolute delight to see live, and like no other band to be seen (or heard). 

When finally let into the Bar Stage, I discovered a cozy and welcoming space for patrons with an accommodating full bar on the floor and a fun photobooth to capture memories in between sets.

Before finally hearing the force that is Bent Knee, I was introduced to the talents of the first opening band: fellow Boston natives, Bearstronaut. The band’s set was one of the most engaging I’ve seen from a band that I had not previously experienced before and from the first number I was won over, along with the rest of the crowd. Completely groovy and utterly infectious, Bearstronaut’s strong bass lines, syncopated drums, and incorporated synths harkened to, but surpassed, the very best work of The 1975. The set ranged in sound from cool disco pop to an industrial, almost George of the Jungle-style beat. Bearstronaut’s set will not soon be forgotten and you can look forward to future material on the band here at Belwood.

The next set of the night came from the Alexander Noice Sextet; a strange and dissonant performance that went from zero to midnight with its postmodern jazz to its hard rock which grabs your chest and pounds with both fists. If the late Stanley Kubrick teamed up with Baz Lurhman to create a space opera, you’d have the Alex Noice Sextet.

Finally, Bent Knee graced the stage. From listening to their albums, I knew that Courtney Swain’s voice was a force that was moving and emotive, but after seeing the mighty siren live, those descriptors are much too small. I felt myself imagining “this is what it would be like if Edith Piaf joined a rock band”. Swain is monumental, as are the musicians supporting her vocal acrobatics. The Bar Stage, from the very first note, was thick with beat. The band: too big, too grand for such a small room. Their presence is astronomical.

The night’s highlights included “Holy Ghost”, a number which we had the privilege to speak with Swain about in our recent interview with the frontwoman. Supernatural, otherworldly, and transcendent, the spirit of the song moved through the crowd like a ghost and settled upon every audience member. It was a feeling I was reluctant to shake.

Bent Knee rocked their way through “Being Human”, whose rhythm assaulted even my shins, somehow. The band spun a tricky web of melody with “Insides In”, in which violinist, Chris Baum, used his instrument like I’ve never seen a violin used before: there were no high-pitched strings floating over the sound, but rather the strings were an alto underlying foundation… one which was masterly crafted to give an uncertain and uneasy tone to the music. The song gradually became more and more dramatic, building with a guitar solo from Ben Levin that became a screaming climax, followed by a shy knocking from Courtney Swain’s keys. The song was a storm, a storm felt throughout the room – the crowd, hushed. The final chorus was deeply emotive; vengeful and scorning while still holding such a dark beauty that demanded to be felt. It felt wrong to clap, like we’d just been on a psychological journey with the band and our silence was our support.

The rest of the set was almost a relief after such an emotional labyrinth, and featured some saucy bass lines from Jessica Kion and memorably tasty guitar licks from Levin in “Belly Side Up”. In the encore, Levin even performed a successful stage dive and fans demonstrated both their figurative and literal support.

To be in the moment with Bent Knee’s music is to feel. To emote. To be breathless and starving for the next piece of the story and to be hungry for resolution from the fire of need… want. It’s all there and it’s all-encompassing, and it makes a truly great band.

Bent Knee continue their North American tour, and if you’re lucky enough to live near one of their planned stops, I highly suggest you experience the ride yourself.

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