At one point during Vintage Trouble‘s Sunday-night set at Mercy Lounge, frontman Ty Taylor stopped to remark, “We’re always amazed when people come up to us and tell us that our music has had an effect on their lives. Mostly, we love it when people say that they use our music to make love to.” I can’t speak for for everyone at the show, but….well screw it, I can: we all hope that Vintage Trouble slept easy that night, because by the time they were through, they had made sweet musical love to every man, woman, and child in the packed house.
To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Vintage Trouble before I agreed to cover Sunday’s show. I liked what I heard after a quick listen through The Bombshelter Sessions, but I had a sneaking suspicion that this was one of those bands who were greater than the sum of their recorded parts. To fully grasp the soul-dynamo that is Vintage Trouble, I knew I was going to have to commit to dragging my lazy ass (along with No Country photographer Shawn Jackson’s) to the Mercy Lounge on a Sunday night in the hopes that the show would make up for the inevitably sleep-deprived Monday that was to follow. Did it? Well, let me put it this way: there hasn’t been a better reason to miss sleep since the midnight premier of “The Dark Knight.” If Vintage Trouble comes to town on a Sunday, see them…you can sleep when you’re dead.
I’d be remiss not to mention the excellent Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics before discussing Vintage Trouble. We managed to catch the excellent Ruby Velle and her band the Soulphonics at the High Watt before scuttling over to the Mercy Lounge. Ruby’s band served up some Dap-Kings style soul jams (complete with a horn section), and Ruby’s voice managed to give Sharon Jones a run for her money. Don’t be surprised if you hear from these guys in the future.
After Ruby Velle’s set, we ran down to Mercy and arrived just a few minutes before Vintage Trouble took the stage. To our surprise, we had to fight our way to the front; I’ve seen the place less packed on Friday and Saturday nights. The speed with which this band has garnered a dedicated and fiercely loyal fan base (affectionately referred to as “Troublemakers” by the band) is testament to their appeal and talent. Vintage Trouble formed in L.A. just over three years ago, and didn’t release The Bombshelter Sessions in the U.S. until April of last year. In this short span, they’ve opened for Brian May, The Who, and Dave Matthews, had a #13 best selling digital album on Itunes, and played the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. They managed to catch fire across the pond in the U.K. before their home country – though it looks like it will only be a matter of time before we follow suit.
As their name suggests, Vintage Trouble are part of the musical counter-current who reject what they consider the soul-less overproduction and over-commercialization of modern music. More specifically, they are part of the “Daptone clique” who hearken back to mid-century soul music and attempt to recreate that era’s musical spontaneity and energy by using analog recording equipment. Now, if you’re like me, you’ve probably grown tired of classic-rock snobs who can’t refrain from sounding off about “how modern music has gone to shit,” and who avoid any music that has come within 100 feet of a computer like the plague. To me, it seems clear that there are great records and crap records made on both Protools and analog tape; it’s about how you use the tools you’ve chosen. Let me assure you: Vintage Trouble are not here to shove the analog gospel down your throat – they’re just asking us all to stop and take a look back every once in a while, lest we lose something important in the midst of all our forward progress and modern hipness.
After hearing Vintage Trouble tear through their two hour set, it’s hard to not be on their side. When the dust had settled after two hours of twirling, preaching, pelvic thrusting, and guitar solos so blistering that they posed a threat to the stage equipment, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe we have let something important fall by the wayside. Soul, yes, but perhaps more importantly, fun. Vintage Trouble’s set included favorites such as “Hand Me Down Blues,” “Still and Always Will,” and “Nancy Lee” as well as several yet-unreleased tracks (I believe they were called “Before the Teardrops” and “24/7 365 Satisfaction Man”), and at every turn my initial conviction was confirmed: these guys are a dish best-served live. The band introduced “Before the Teardrops” by proclaiming their love for the bygone era of speakeasy-style venues where “pretty ladies dangled their legs from the rafters and people would get drunk.” Vintage Trouble’s live show is largely an effort to recreate that atmosphere. They look the part, they play the part, they are the part – I’ve never seen a band so effectively turn a sleepy-eyed Sunday-night crowd into a wide-eyed rabble of dancers. The positive energy wafting from the stage is such that it’s nearly impossible to hold onto any negative attitudes you may have brought in the door.
Talk to people about their all-time, top-5 shows they’ve seen, and you might notice a familiar refrain: “it was like church.” These are the sorts of shows where the guys on stage do more than just kick ass – the sorts of shows where the gap between the stage and the audience is absolutely destroyed and border between music and spiritual experience is blurred. If I were to deliver Ty Taylor’s onstage introduction to “Not Alright by Me” – a plea for everyone to put a stop to their internet activism, get away from the computer screen, and start becoming the change they want to see in the world – you’d probably be able to pick it apart with expert and practiced cynicism, but to hear it and feel it in the context of the show…that’s another thing entirely. It’s the U2 effect – you can walk in the most hardened, critical, smart-assed skeptic of the band, but by the end you’ll be eating out of Bono’s hand. And if you think it’s uncool of me to compare Vintage Trouble to U2, well, you’ve missed the whole point. Before launching into “Gracefully,” Ty gave a beautiful monologue bemoaning the loss of the love song in a world where everyone’s “too worried about being cool.” Soul is love, love is soul, and there’s nothing more soulful than a band whose entire set is one giant love song to their audience. That’s something all of the musical greats have understood, and it’s what will set Vintage Trouble apart from a legion of ultra-hip, soul-less bands that are their contemporaries.