Delta Rae @ El Rey Theatre – 9/22/2012
I feel embarrassed to admit this, but I somehow let five years go by in Los Angeles before I got to the El Rey Theatre, which is now one of my favorite venues. While I’ve missed some of my favorite bands when they played there, Saturday’s goal was to solidify a new favorite band. Four mics and a keyboard at the front of the stage was a great start in my book.
Despite the big opening orchestral hits and a few sustained chords, Delta Rae abruptly brought the energy back down to highlight keyboardist Eric Hölljes singing “Morning Comes.” Whether it was a wall of unified harmonies or supporting vocals on choice lyrics, they hand-delivered LA a dose of their brand gospel-folk-pop-rock fusion. With the final words “after the night the morning comes,” Eric passed the energy to his sister Brittany, keeping this piano folk rock mood churning. Her delicately hoarse and soulful voice revealed another layer of their breathtaking vocal stacks. Drummer Mike McKee had even switched to playing with mallets, adding to the powerfully contained dynamics of “Holding On To Good.”
Before their third song, they said their first words to the crowd: Good evening Los Angeles! With a quick admission of only playing the upcoming tune “all of four times” it was time to pass the spotlight onto the only non-related singer in the group, Elizabeth Hopkins. Unnasuming in her adorable and modest dress, Elizabeth’s voice soared over a dark and soulful groove. Both females singers gyrated in their own worlds in front of their stage piece(that comes into play later in the show), a large kick drum with a Delta Rae graphic. As the lights faded, leaving a white hue illuminating the tops of their heads, it was the other Hölljes brother’s turn to lead a song. Ian’s chops carried this motown ballad accented by the girls teaming up for a classic choreography of singing, swaying, and clapping. Once brother Eric unleashed a simple and suiting electric piano solo, the whole audience eagerly joined the band in clapping along. Just as I was waiting for them to play the same card twice, they gave the audience the ultimate treat by bringing acoustic instruments into the crowd for their fifth song. This time, they alternated melody lines with each band member, related or not.
The following song started as a soft duet between Eric and Elizabeth. “Unlike Any Other” swiftly became one of my favorites thus far. There’s a wailing pain in her voice that makes her seem vulnerable yet strong at the same time. The classical piano intro to their next piece set the stage for one of the hardest songs they’ve ever had to write. This anthem/stand against bullying brings a noticeable highlight to the bassist, Grant Emerson, who’s now bowing an electric upright bass, and their tight harmonies in the breakdown made me want to listen to Fleetwood Mac on the drive home. The next song also had a clear message with regards to marriage equality. Growing up in Georgia was apparently difficult for the liberal-minded Hölljes family, and with a groove along the lines of “Dyer Maker” by Zeppelin or “Some Nights” by F.U.N. they take you to the peach state for a few loud minutes.
Almost as if I’m a psychic, Delta Rae unleashed an amazing homage to Fleetwood Mac, doing serious justice to the foot-thumping classic, “The Chain.” This was one of the loudest tracks of the night and perfectly paired with the gut wrenching southern-infused “Bottom of the river.” Joined on stage by Vocal Rush, a high school group from Oakland, CA that had won a contest with their version of this song, the El Rey stage erupted into an all-out brawl of rhythm with drum sticks, chains clanking on trash cans, pounded kick drums, vocal percussion, and…oh yah, there was a stomp-and-clap-filled step routine too.
With only a few songs left in the set, the unrelated Hopkins tore out my heart with “If I Loved You,” an achey ode to an unfortunate crush. This emotional recall was backed by the first appearance of an electric guitar for their darkest tune yet. Twinkling piano on top of heavily chopped guitar riffs were offset by effortlessly held notes. Vocal Rush rejoined the group for the last song for some raucus folk rock yet again. At one point, the keyboard-anchored brother(Eric) even picked up drum sticks to add to the rhythm. The audience wouldn’t let them go home so soon though.
In true encore fashion, the audience pled with woo’s, claps and occasional “one more song” chants until Delta Rae returned to the stage for two final songs. I was in awe of how full their sound was even without a guitar playing. Peter Gabriel came to mind on account of the strategically sparse drum performance in the first encore track. Next, Brittany, who we found out was the funny one in the family, intros the final song with a warning. “This is a song about why you don’t wanna be my ex-boyfriend…Cuz I’m an angry bitch!” With this bluesy finale, the beat was seamlessly passed around from band member to band member starting with drums until everyone in the room was moving around.
Four amazing singers that could be solo artists in their own right, amazing musicianship, innovative and ecclectic rhythm with chains, drum sticks, claps, and more, Delta Rae is just getting started and I can’t wait for what they have planned next.