Ozma/Earlimart/Slowreader - live in Los Angeles (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Ozma / Earlimart / Slowreader

live in Los Angeles (2003)

live show

By 7:30, the slow-moving line of hipster-emo kids was snaking down the sidewalk on Wilshire Blvd in the heart of the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles, the Saturday evening traffic mockingly flowing by steadily to the left. Each person was subjected to a pocket search and thoroughly frisked before being allowed into the historical El Rey Theater, but still, the tinge of pre-show buzz and excitement was in the air, and no one I saw complained much.

Slowreader actually took the stage while I was outside waiting for the El Rey staff to locate someone from that band to clear up a slight guest list issue (your Punknews writer wasn't on it), but unfortunately no one from the band or Fueled by Ramen was to be found, so I went ahead and paid to get inside.

The El Rey Theater is a historical landmark in Los Angeles, a once glamorous movie palace now transformed into a live music venue. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and the former theater aisles provide a nice halo around the sunken dance-floor area. I made it inside to catch the beginning of Slowreader's second song, and Rory Phillips and Gabe Hascall seemed situated onstage. This was my first time seeing Slowreader play, and admittedly, as an Impossibles fan, it was rather odd to see the Rory and Gabe relaxed with acoustic guitars playing melancholy music more akin to Elliot Smith than the raspy dynamic rock of their former band.

The crowd responded accordingly. They were stiff and mostly still. A few kids were nodding along, but there was no motion on the floor. I do not yet own a copy of Slowreader's debut album, not out of vengeance or spite–I'll take a new direction over no Gabe and Rory at all. I just prefer the Impossibles-type rock over the chilled-out acoustic sound, but the Slowreader set included a good number of the tracks from their album. Gabe serenaded the stagnant crowd with a startlingly smooth live voice while Rory was delegated mostly to just guitar work. For a few songs, like "Sweetest Suffering" (recognized this one), Gabe migrated over to the keyboard on the right side of the stage, creating some diversity in the sound, but opening a weird triangular gap. For me, and for what seemed like everybody else in the room, the highlight was the closer, "So This Is It." Yeah, it was still Slowreader onstage, but this song is Slowreader saying, "We can still rock Impossibles-style." Rory's raspy screams got some of the crowd moving around, and just as that song functions as the last on the album, it was quite a way to close a set.

Slowreader was better than I had expected, and they really piqued my interest in their album (which I will be returning to). Maybe I'm just a sucker for Gabe and Rory's music. Maybe I'm just an old Impossibles fan from Texas. But Slowreader sounded fantastic live. When you think about it…the band is kind of like the Impossibles (at least Return-era) on a lot of weed.

After the set, I had the chance to speak with Rory for a bit, and after I told him I was from Punknews, he completely covered my ticket charge from the Slowreader Merch booth. I was impressed. Rory is a warm and personable guy, completely approachable and just all around cool. We chatted a bit about Slowreader and his experience on the tour.

"It's been great so far. It's been really cool to be out on the road and just play some acoustic guitar and be with friends."

I asked him about Slowreader's different sound as compared to his work in his other bands.

"I don't want to write the same album over and over again. I mean, like, AC/DC has written the same record fifteen times," he said, leaning over to speak into my ear over the crowd noise and Earlimart's setup.

"You want to keep progressing," I said.

"Yeah, exactly."

We talked briefly about his experience in the Stereo and the Impossibles, and how both were meaningful for him. We talked about Austin, his hometown, and he said that this tour had gotten off to a great start there in Texas. He mentioned his new startup band, 20goto10, and how he still wasn't sure how the band would sound or what exactly it was going to be like.

"What about any ska influences on your new stuff? I asked." You basically abandoned that completely when the Impossibles got back together."

Rory brushed his shaggy hair out of his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. I mean for me, I kind of stopped playing that stuff when I was 20. I mean it was great when I was younger, but I kinda lost interest."

He went on to say that ska was just too easy and it didn't challenge him musically. He feels he can do more. (For more goodness, you can check out a great full interview with Rory and Gabe from Slowreader done earlier by Scott here.)

While we were talking, Earlimart took the stage and began rocking away on their first song.

"They sound like the Pixies," I said to Rory.

He smiled and nodded. "Yeah, yeah yeah."

We finished up and I thanked Rory for his time. He thanked me for the interview then posed for a picture with Ian, the Slowreader drummer (also a really cool guy). As Earlimart finished their opener, we parted ways so I could check out the rest of the set.

I had never actually seen Earlimart live, nor heard either of their two albums. I knew of their place on the scene as a hybridized Pixies/Pavement/etc. type of indie-rock, but this was my first Earlimart experience. They were pretty good, though. The singer/songwriter/producer, frontman Aaron Espinoza has a reputation on the scene here in California for his impressive handling of basically all the facets for Earlimart. As I heard, their sound is nothing revolutionary, and maybe their energy was inherent coming after such a mellow act as Slowreader, but they certainly played some good rock. Earlimart didn't get the crowd moving per say, but certainly a few more heads bobbed. Interestingly, Espinoza also had two mics, one main, one on the side with a more distorted, tinny sound. Like Slowreader, their set wasn't long and most kids didn't seem to know many songs. I don't know if Earlimart won this hipster crowd completely over, but I dug most of their stuff. Check them out if you're a fan of Pixies/Breeders-esque indie rock.

And it was with Earlimart's last song that this crowd of sensitive, emotional teenagers began to migrate towards the front of the room. When the band was done, and the applause over, the crowd became a little denser, still. Ozma's set-up time was a bit longer than the other two acts, but clearly, this crowd at the El Rey was here for the headliner. I spent the set-up time lounging, sitting in the chairs that lined the side walls of the theater and hanging out with some of the Ozma kids. (Funny–little Casey Affleck was sitting two seats over from me). When I felt the buzz in the room of several hundred Ozma fans itching for their band to come out, I ditched little Affleck and made my way to the front. And it was packed. Really packed. The front half El Rey dance floor was compacted like a box of cigarettes, the hipster-emo kids standing upright and tall.

When Ozma took the stage there was cheering. When the opening notes of "Utsukushi Shibuya" floated through the theater, there was fluid bobbing. It was a nice, mellow start, and Daniel Brummel sounded great. Ryan Slegr, the guitarist and second vocalist, followed with "Domino," from the first album, and the crowd began to finally get into the groove of the show. But it was the next song, the old fan favorite, "Gameover" that woke these kids up and got them moving. Frankly I had been disappointed with these kids up to this point. Say what you will about standing at an emo show, head down, arms crossed nodding along, but I like to see some damn motion on the floor. I considered jumping in and starting a circle pit, but I figured this crowd would have just cried a little bit and run away. "Gameover" rocked. Ryan's style onstage is decidedly different from the more front-man style of Daniel. Ryan stands pretty still, strums his guitar, and nods along. Daniel flails and sweats and feels the music.

Next, Daniel leaned into the mic and said simply, "This one's a cover." With that, Star pounded her Casio and the "Tetris" Russian theme blasted the El Rey. And FINALLY the crowd got into this show. Flailing and pushing and shaking and even some jumping–just like it should be. Leave it to Gameboy to get the emo kids movin' around.

Ozma played very well. The energy lasted to the end, and even through the encore, kids were active on the floor. It was by no means a violent show, but it seemed everyone was having a good emo-ish time. Man, does Daniel sweat a lot onstage. Barrels of it. But props to him for keeping the energy up. Props to Star Wick for being cute and on her keyboards. She was like a little elf in the back. Ryan sounded great. Jose Galvez axed it up on guitar and jumped around. The drummer, Patrick Edwards–well he wore aviator glasses and smoked throughout the whole set–cool with me. Though this show was billed as a record release show for Spending Time on the Borderline, there was an eclectic mix from both albums and their collection of EP's. The setlist (as I remember it, and as verified by Jose) was:

Domino Effect
The Ups and Downs
Wake Up
Bad Dogs
You Know the Story
Spending Time on the Borderline
Los Angeles (appropriately)
In Search of 1988 (really rockin')

(If Jose and I messed up…sorry…but we pooled our brains, and we both thought this was the show… Unfortunately, little greedy fans immediately grabbed all copies of the setlist).

After the show, after all of the kids had emptied out of the El Rey, I hung out with Jose from Ozma and we collaborated on constructing that setlist. He seemed happy with how the band had played, and he belted out "Hold my breath all night, hold my fears so tiiiight" when Rory walked by. They shared a laugh.

Rory, Ian and I spoke for a little while again, and I thanked them again for everything. Slowreader was packing up the van for the long drive back to Austin.

"We're stopping for one more show in Phoenix," Ian said.

"Cool, one pit-stop right off the 10 there," I replied.

Ian shook his head. "The 10? You're not from Texas anymore."

"Hey, what can I say," I laughed. "You live in California, you pick some things up."

Rory and Ian mentioned that they might be moving out to L.A. in the future.

"I love Austin," Rory said. "But I dunno, touring with all these California bands–they're our friends now. It might be pretty cool to be out here."

Rory, Ian and I parted ways (don't know where the hell Gabe was) and I left them be to pack up their van. I turned around and saw Star standing in the corner chatting with some fans. I made my way over and shared my feelings.

"Star, I have a crush on you."

She laughed and said, "Wow."

We talked for a while. She told me I looked like some guy from a TV show–Blake something–I was tired and couldn't place the reference. She said Ozma would probably be playing some more shows in July in LA and that she hoped to see me there. I asked her how the tour had been, and she said it had been fun, but that it was good to be back home. We posed for a picture together. At some point quite soon after, a tall, weird fidgety man invaded my Star experience and created some really awkward vibes. He asked me about the TV reference, thinking I was famous or something. I think he winked at me, then carried on rambling to Star. She was offset by him. Whoever that man was, I passionately hate him.

But it was late anyway, and the Southern California night was turning pretty chilly. I didn't want to leave Star alone with this crazy fuck, but the rest of the band was close by, and Daniel is a pretty big guy. She would be fine, I thought. I'm sure she gets that sort of thing all the time. The fidgety old man had already weirded the situation out, and by all circumstances it was time for this writer to make his exit. I bid Star goodbye, thanked her for the picture and her time, and told her that I hoped to see her in July. We shared a slight hug and a smile, and that was that. I was off, making my way down the sidewalk on Wilshire Blvd, back towards my car, away from the El Rey, away from the remaining band members and fans still congregated at the doors of the theater, away from Rory and the guys from Slowreader, away from Star, my little keyboardist elf.

I looked back one last time and made sure the crazy guy wasn't following me. The coast was clear. So I kept walking, each step taking me a little further away from what had been a pretty damn good rock show.