The Troubadour is a place of legend. Elton John, Carole King and so many others spring-boarded their historic careers there, amid the oaken acoustics and barroom regulars. They went on to astronomical heights, and it seemed as though the musical acts playing there on April 23, 2014 were aiming for the stars, too.
Dubbed the Three of Clubs tour, the cross-country trek featured Flagship, Little Daylight and Terraplane Sun, a triumvirate of glistening rock. None of the trinity was suited for the Troub— the ambition and gusto of each could easily fill the Hollywood Bowl.
Up first were Charlotte, N.C., fellas Flagship. Like brothers in arms the War on Drugs, Flagship culled from the theatrical romantics of the 1980s. But singer Drake Margolnick is less Bruce Springsteen and more Bono, lifting his arms up to the heavens as he’d croon. “Are You Calling,” a whirling nightscape a la Coldplay meets the Bravery, kicked off their passionate performance. The charismatic front man would contort his limbs and cast smiles as doe-eyed scenesters drank in their vibe. He’d then take to Michael Finster’s steady drums and jump off the kit, not daredevilishly like David Lee Roth but giddily like a mischievous child.
The set, derived mostly from their atmospheric debut album, Flagship (Bright Antenna), was grandiose but not without its hang-ups. A look of panic overtook Margolnick and emphatic guitarist Matt Padgett when the vocalist’s pedals began to crackle mid-show. But like true professionals, they pressed on, letting the immense ballads and haunting up-tempo numbers squelch the technical difficulties. Adding to the lush sound was Grant Harding’s synth arsenal, a steampunk curio three tiers high that breathed extra life into the robust, radio-ready songs.
Brooklyn’s Little Daylight came next, shifting the feel to Paramore/Sleigh Bells territory. Ingénue Nikki Taylor had the shoulder-shaking intensity of Shiny Toy Guns’ Carah Faye Charnow and the quaint vox of CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry. But too often her purring got buried under the thundering bass of multi-instrumentalist Eric Zeiler.
The audience was more receptive to Little Daylight’s forays into EDM than the stadium rock of Flagship. One man shouted, enraptured, when Matt Lewkowicz employed a Daft Punk vocoder during a buzzy tune. Little Daylight’s gift was tapping into the zeitgeist; they’d toured with pop mammoths Bastille prior to this outing, and their penchant for electro-tinged anthems was palatable. Still, one couldn’t help feeling as though they were going through the motions of an A&R showcase. We wouldn’t wish Flagship’s audio problems upon the New York foursome, but the former just had more of a human touch to them. This writer didn’t stay for Terraplane Sun, but ultimately, the Charlotte collective won the night.
Are the big leagues calling for Flagship? One can only hope.