London, Friday November 30, 2018
I come straight from work so I arrive a bit late for this evening’s concert/record promotion at Rough Trade East. The band has already played about half of their short set but it’s easy to get a sense of it all immediately. The band is Calpurnia, the four members all teenagers, one of them a world-famous actor, Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things), who is, I assume, the reason why most people here have heard of this band. Wolfhard’s three bandmates and childhood friends are lead guitarist Ayla Tesler-Mabe, bassist Jack Anderson and drummer Malcolm Craig. They’re here to promote their first record – an EP -, Scout.
There’s a lot of screaming and fawning going on. Not your usual Rough Trade East crowd. The band plays well but their musical limitations also show. Nothing wrong with that, but it does leave me thinking they need a set of stronger songs for their next record, the songs are simply not good enough yet. What really strikes me is, not only how young they are but how young they seem. All in their late teens, it does give the impression of a band of pupils playing at their high-school dance, their friends (fans) cheering them on, but seen with outside eyes, it’s a little underwhelming.
According to an article I read, some of their influences are bands like Weezer and Pixies. Though some of the off-the-beaten-track chord sequences bear some resemblance to said bands, Calpurnia is perhaps a bit too polished and missing the quirkiness that could make their songs stand out. Instead it’s a showcase of songs that are steadily positioned in the middle of the road, well played, but never straying from safe territory, which also makes the whole affair a little musically boring. The record is very much about being a teenager, cutting class, dating, breaking up etc. The lyrics could be stronger but there is a kind of primitive appeal to lines like, ‘My girl’s on a train, she’s going far away’ (Blame), and ‘I don’t know where we’re going, We can never change the way the wind’s blowing’ (Waves).
And me being underwhelmed is not the point. The screaming fans would not agree with me, and why should they? This concert is more for them than it is for me. I’m not the target audience, and in that sense my opinion is irrelevant. What I do see and appreciate is what a wonderful opportunity it is for this band to travel the world and play music. And that in itself is perhaps what I enjoy most about this concert – seeing these people, band members and fans alike, having one of those ‘pinch-myself-to-see-if-it’s-real’ kind of moments, that we all want life to be full of.