Much like the lush collection of covers Rogue Wave just put out on the appropriately titled Cover Me–it was clear when Zach Rogue came out donning a turquoise, silk-sequin shirt and white pants that even the more nuanced pieces of their 80’s themed night would not be phoned-in. Known for their moving, lo-fi rock, it might not have been a stretch for them to make a decade-album–but it certainly was an unexpected treat. The album itself is a lavish reimagining of everyone from The Cure to Genesis, and for a sold-out crowd Saturday night the band gave a crowded Troubadour a dreamy play-through of the album. From behind his microphone and beaten, wooden keyboard stand, Rogue wagged his head from side-to-side and gesticulated whimsically to the hallowed walls of the venue–no doubt prompting a seance of the very spirits he was covering that had performed on that very stage decades previous. Bathed in their approval (and that of the crowd’s), as well as hot purple and pink beams of light–not to mention the many appearances of disco ball shimmered effects spiraling themselves around the room–no one could accuse Rogue of falling short on the foreplay.
Opening with a bit of Echo and the Bunnymen, Rogue gave his glossy croon a whirl on “Rescue,” giving the melody a glistening sheen of synth-infused rushes; followed by a similarly glam-dripping rendition of “In Between Days.” Three songs in we got “Let My Love Open the Door,” and everything from the subtle gallop of percussion to Rogue’s stripped-down crooning was enough to sell the crowd (as if they weren’t already totally invested) that if they could do justice to Pete Townshend’s beloved ditty, the rest of the night was going to be phenomenal. And so it was. Every song was not only a faithful tribute to the original, but executed with inherent panache and palpable enthusiasm; such that it was obvious Rogue and company were more than at home performing such sacred tunes. Classic rock received the lo-fi treatment on “Sharp Dressed Man,” exchanging driving percussiveness and electrics for a more sparsely energetic growth of atmospheric bass and an almost Ryan Adam’s-esque introspective cadence. Warbly-guitars and a piercing lull took the band to new heights with a tackling of Kim Carnes’ rollicking soft-rock smolder “Bette Davis Eyes,” and while it’d be unfair to compare Rogue to Carnes’ blue-eyed crooning–their slowed-down interpretation was just as affecting.
Continuing their burnt, winding down fever-dream, Rogue Wave dazzled a few more times. Refusing to play solely from the shoulder’s of giants, they took the neo-rock/psychedelia of “Under the Milky Way” to some metaphysically, kaleidoscopic realm of synth dreaminess–building on The Church’s soaring affections and ejecting them into outer-space. After a numbing take on The Romantics hit “Talking in Your Sleep,” Rogue Wave returned for an encore of their own pieces, offering a of songs from their discography. Besides delivering satisfyingly and promptly on their creations, the encore was an unconsciously incisive look at the band’s inspirations, and it was hard not to hear the quaking influences of classic rock in the melodic deliveries of “Publish My Love” and “Ghost.” But then the off-kilter drum spats and glowing guitars of “Lake Michigan” began to tip-toe around the Troubadour’s acoustics, and for all Rogue Wave’s genre-inspirations, the song was a stark reminder of their unapologetic ability to go out on a limb, to take a medley or fragmented story and glue it together haphazardly with anything they can get their hands on. Gushing with a sumptuous eccentricity that just bursts and crashes from the wandering, vagabond melodies of the song–it was clear that the night we had just spent listening to cover’s of our favorite 80’s bands was less a reflection on the original authors, and more on the band that had been sweating them out over the course of two hours.
Nyles Lannon opened the night with his special brand of electronica-tinted folk, ambling lovingly against the melancholy that seems trace his little narratives. The presence of the occasional grumbling bass and glittering synth refused to dull the honesty of his acoustics, instead highlighting its voracious sincerity.
Words & Photography: Steven Ward