Friday, September 8

Live: Sparta 9/1/06

Here’s what I learned from last Friday night: when in San Francisco, don’t go see a concert at Popscene.

The place is a pizzeria during a day and a “cool” and “hip” indie dance club on certain nights. Granted the club’s music selection was pretty good, it wasn’t attracting the crowd I thought it was going to. And I guess in addition to all of that that, many bands have been doing shows there throughout the years. I never heard of the place ‘til recently, when my brother, some friends, and I all went to see Sparta perform last week.

I’m not a huge fan of Sparta or anything, but I do believe they don’t get the credit they deserve. I think that’s partly because they have been stuck in Mars Volta’s shadow ever since “Frances the Mute” became such a huge hit. That, and Geffen didn’t try to promote their second album “Porcelain” at all. It was actually a pretty good album. So, yeah, I think it’s a shame, but oh well.

Now after a record label change, Sparta’s back with new guy Keeley Davis taking over after guitarist Paul Hinojos’ departure to be a “sound manipulator” for Mars Volta. As a side note, I don’t know why anyone would want to be the sound manipulator for a band when they were doing fine being a guitarist. It just seems like a step down, right? Anyways, it seems like the Jim Ward and Co. are more concerned about establishing themselves as a strong band rather than talking about their messy history. Too bad they played at Popscene.

After sitting through and playing mafia with my friends during the first two bands’ sets, we got up and went over to the stage for Sparta. We then waited another long while, and finally at 11:30 they started playing. They opened with the “Porcelain” track “Hiss the Villain,” but something was notably amiss. First of all, it was too fucking loud. The place was essentially a box made of brick, and it didn’t lend itself to good acoustics. The sound was pretty much just too loud and there wasn’t much that could be done. Then the guitars were noticeably out of tune. Then the drummer started skipping beats and losing his place in the song. Keeley also did this once or twice. How can this all happen with some veteran performers? The crowd, most of whom were really drunk by now, didn’t care and cheered and jumped their way through the song, but it really bothered me. After the song, Jim told the sound guy to turn the bass way down, as it was to loud for everyone on stage. Ok, so maybe that was the answer.

By the second song, another “Porcelain” track, the guitar issues seemed fixed, but the drummer continued to mess up here and there. Then, I believe before the fourth song, which I think was the Wiretap Scars track “Rx Coup,” (I apologize—I have a horrible time remembering setlists—but these songs were played) Jim Ward told the sound guy to turn up the click track on the drummers monitor. Ok… so maybe that’s the answer. But no, the dude continued to make fairly noticeable mistakes through the songs that followed.

And it was quite obvious what it was when I watched his reactions during the song: he couldn’t hear at all what was going on. The overall sound of the band was so reverbed and so washed out by Popscene’s acoustics, it was very hard to hear what was actually going on. You could tell a song was taking place, but guitar rhythms were pretty much nonexistent. And that must’ve made it extremely difficult for everyone on stage to know if they were even playing together or not. You could see they were second guessing themselves and stopping and coming back in trying to find their place in the music.

Regardless of all this, though, the purpose of the show was to promote Sparta’s upcoming album “Threes.” The first song they showed off was “Taking Back Control,” the track they put up on their myspace. And you know, they nailed that song. It was a relief to know they could manage to pull off a full song with no mistakes despite the difficulties. Another new track they played, “Weathering the Storm,” also seemed pretty neat.

But above all, the venue pretty much ruined the night. I had seen Sparta open for Incubus a few years ago, and they sounded much better than. But then again, they were playing at the San Jose Arena, with a much better sound system and better (though not great) acoustics. So I’m pretty sure that something must just be wrong with Popscene. And it’s fine that Sparta has an off night, it happens to the best of us.

Sparta - Hiss the Villain
Sparta - Sans Cosm

- John Higgins -

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