Live: French Kicks/Young Mammals/Hearts of Animals

French Kicks pic #1
French Kicks.

WALTER'S ON WASHINGTON -- 6/6/2008: Buckets of sweat, buckets of sweat. Or so it went one recent Friday night at Walter's when Hearts of Animals and the Young Mammals opened for the French Kicks in front of what looked to be an almost sold-out crowd (some got in for free, as is always the case there) full of twenty-somethings with a collective indie ennui -- which is strange, because Walter's usually brings in some of the most exuberant audiences I've ever seen. I'm not sure if it was the overwhelming heat or the overwhelming number of professional-looking cameras (seriously, there were tons -- like 20, maybe 40), but the people just weren't into the music. And I'm not sure why, because the show was great (well...great, but not as great as it should have been; Frightened Rabbit, the act most were there to see, had to cancel due to their van blowing up or something -- straight DIY, yo).
Young Mammals pic #1
Young Mammals. Photo by Emily Driskill.

But aside from that fact, it was great to see two of the more popular (as well as two of the best) Houston area bands open for New York heavies the French Kicks. And it was kind of refreshing to see that Hearts of Animals and Young Mammals were able to pull such a huge crowd -- literally dozens of people left after the Young Mammals set, not even bothering to stick around for the headliners, proving that, wow, Houston does have a music scene after all. Those who left, however, missed a very good, if somewhat uninspired show, by the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Ohio headliners. The Kicks are famously known for two things: (1) trying to emulate live how they sound in the studio; and (2) not being at all engaged with the crowd. And on this night, they kinda sorta pulled off the first and perfectly pulled off the second.
The set list was great -- lead singer (and sometimes keyboardist, sometimes guitarist) Nick Stumpf's delectably ambient voice sounded flawless as he wove his way through almost every track from the just-released (and, in my opinion, best to date) record Swimming, while lead guitarist (and Princeton grad) Josh Wise took over lead vocals on "Carried Away" and the very impressive "Atlanta" (both from Swimming).
Hearts of Animals pic #1
Hearts of Animals. Photo by Theresa K.

Their new release, though, is a bit less accessible than their previous albums, so I think (at least from the audience's perspective) the highlight of the night had to have been when the Kicks dipped into their catalog of old, bringing back some danceable classics from 2004's The Trial of the Century ("One More Time" was amazing) and 2006's Two Thousand ("So Far We Are" seemed to be the crowd's favorite).
Overall, it was a very fun, if a little bit strange, night. All three bands gave excellent performances, but something was going on with the audience. They were, for the most part, kind of bored. I don't know why, and I don't see how. It could have been those pesky Rabbits, it could have been the fact that the French Kicks didn't once (or so it seemed) look directly at the crowd, it could have been the staggering heat; I just don't know. But don't let that take away from the fact that Walter's proved once again to be the reigning king of Houston venues, giving us three solid hours of music for a meager $10. Suck it, $30 Dresden Dolls tickets. END