“We’re The Record Company. We play rock and roll.”
A concertgoer might face these words with some skepticism. “Rock” and its progeny are alive and well but real rock and roll – raw, visceral, dangerous rock and roll – is scarce today. You couldn’t be faulted for having some doubts when you hear that line. But if you have the fortune of hearing it from the mouth of Chris Vos introducing The Record Company, they quickly vanish. Faith is restored. And you get to rocking.
The Los Angeles-based three-piece graced New York’s Rough Trade on Tuesday night, bringing with them their jolting, refreshing brand of ass kicking and proudly displaying the timeless, universal power of the music they deal in.
The Record Company is a rock band stripped to its essentials, with Vos on vocals and guitar, Alex Stiff on bass and Marc Cazorla on drums. There is no fluff, and there wasn’t a wasted note in the entire show. In any band of this size, each member is essential, and these guys gave a definite sense that no one can do what they do quite like they can.
Cazorla’s beats are primitive but quite literally perfect for the music the band creates. Whether it’s the light shuffle that heralds the lusty ‘Rita Mae Young’ or the thunderous, stomping groove of ‘Hard Day Coming Down,’ the primal character of his drumming is irresistible. Stiff, meanwhile, is as much rhythm as lead player. His bass is not just prominent but is the defining feature of a number of songs. I was convinced the snarling riff that opens ‘Off the Ground’ was played on a guitar until I saw Stiff take a slide to his four-string and get the crowd moving with his distorted, fuzzy tones. The two lock into deep, raunchy grooves and kept fans dancing, head banging, gyrating and performing every conceivable physical expression of the joy associated with rock and roll that they were legally allowed to.
Vos holds things down on his end with the fire and ferocity of an iconic front man. With his face partially obscured by the black Dylan cap he is almost never seen without, he tore through the set with reckless abandon, singing each song like it was his last and deftly switching between a range of electric and acoustic guitars, playing the hell out of each. Although he prowled the stage, danced manically, and swung his axes around like they were…well, axes, he garnered the strongest fan reactions while seated. Vos’ lap slide playing may be his signature and he scored some of the night’s scorching highlights while working it. ‘The Burner’ is an apt title for the song that closed the set, as it seemed like the venue would combust at any moment as Vos reached the highest pitches his instrument allowed.
The singer was also pleasantly warm and conversational between songs, taking advantage of the proximity and intimacy the small, packed venue allowed and expertly setting a mood before playing a note. “We’re going to turn this Tuesday night into a Saturday night,” he hollered to cheers before launching into ‘Feels So Good’ and achieving that goal. He later set an already amped crowd into overdrive with, “If you want to dance and misbehave, now’s the time to do it.” Dancing and misbehaving ensued.
He also humbly paid tribute to two of the band’s major influences and heroes, acknowledging John Lee Hooker before the clearly Hooker-indebted rocker ‘In the Mood For You’ and The Beastie Boys before a killer, bluesy reading of ‘So What’cha Want.’ Playing on Beasties home turf got the New York crowd crazy, and no one was about to argue when Vos professed himself “the illest motherfucker from here to Gardena” (even if Mike D has a permanent hold on that title).
Throughout the night, the band played like they had something to prove. Their year has seen rigorous touring (a trail of great reviews in their wake) and the release of their excellent debut LP ‘Give It Back To You.’ Vos noted that Tuesday was the band’s first headlining spot at a New York venue. They have another one coming up at the hallowed (and considerably larger) Beacon Theatre. In spite of their achievements, though, it’s clear this band is still very hungry. That hunger was evident in their performance, and it will take them far. This was a great concert.