Wandering into Wild At Heart during Warner Drive’s soundcheck was the perfect way to get a taste for the Los Angeles band. The room was empty except for the members of The Tigersnakes of Death; Texas Terri, a staple and an icon in whichever city she finds herself; and the rather disgruntled-looking sound guy. Wild At Heart lends itself to rock shows with its cluttered and dim interior, the smell of stale smoke, and a staff that is dedicated to making touring musicians feel like they are at home.
The band launched into “DJ Joyride” to check the balance of the instruments and the members became so immersed in their song that they forget to pay attention to the requests from behind the soundboard. “Hello? Hello?” the sound guy asked in vain, and eventually he just decided to wait for them to get it out of their system, to let the energy accumulated after hours of being cramped in a tour van be expelled through the electric wires of microphones and guitar amps.
Singer Jonny Law did not move much, as he was not yet enlivened by the energy of a watching audience, but his voice was nothing but a well-honed combination of strength and talent. Texas Terry, leaning against a wall to the left, looked over and remarked, “Wow. That drummer.”
And he is solid. Jonny Udell is a staple in his own right, having played in many bands in LA, including the Knives; he is a percussive force with which to be reckoned. Warner Drive’s sound was too much for the small venue, and the band was continually asked to turn it down; even Elvis James’ bass was turned down to a volume it probably has not heard since it was placed in his hands. But the sound guy seemed content and the band ran through “DJ Joyride” once more before dispersing into a Berlin summer night and preparing to play.
The club felt different once the doors were open and the audience inside; beers in hands, stragglers waiting by the bar, and musical gourmands up front. Though it was a small crowd, there was no lack of energy or passion shared between the band and the audience. The set opened with “The DJ,” and this time, Law danced around the stage, entangling himself in his microphone cord and creating a technological booby-trap should he have misstepped. Then came “Scarecrow,” based on a bit of Wizard of Oz literature and a dose of musical license. One after the other: “Fully Loaded” to “The Whore,” a song written after a tour stop in Amsterdam, to “Scream” to “Fake It.” Warner Drive didn’t come up for air.
An interesting moment in the set came when the band covered Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” “Now that I’ve lost everything to you / You say you wanna start something new” crooned Law, into the microphone attached to a cord that was still wrapped around his ever-spinning feet. It was a song that might not seem to go along with the set or style, but Warner Drive has dressed up the classic in a special sort of rock’n’roll style—faster tempo, more elaborate drum and bass parts, and an intricate guitar part riff executed by Ryan Harris, who didn’t stray from his powerful stance. During a slight pause, Law stepped back to the drums and said: “Come on Jonny boy!” A together they started another song, in sync with one another.
Some bands do not seem to have much chemistry on stage—perhaps that connection gets lost in tour bickering or dwindles after hours in the same room, the same van, playing the same setlist. Warner Drive shows none of these symptoms. They still chuckled at the stage banter, played into one another, and generally seemed to enjoy what they were doing, feeding off of the live performance. “I lost my motivation, bring back my inspiration,” Law sang with a sense of cathartic release. And with that, the set was done. The lights began to turn up, but the crowd still stood staring at Warner Drive, waiting and asking for more. Maybe ask is the wrong word. “That sounds like a demand. We like the demand.” The band members who had already started to leave the stage crept back behind their instruments and postured themselves for one more before the creative energy of Berlin swallowed the moment and the players. The first notes of Roxette’s “She’s Got the Look” rang out, and the audience couldn’t help but dance.
As soon as the set was over for good, with no hint of an encore, the band left the stage. One by one, the members filed into the venue and gave up the boundary that had separated band from audience. Except for a difference in the amount of sweat upon their brows and seeping through their shirts, one could not tell musician from fan. And that is just as it should be. Music blurs the differences between one person and another. Music creates a non-judgemental community. And that is just what Warner Drive succeeded in doing.