On paper Little Green Cars is a collection of fresh-faced 20-year-olds from Dublin, and when half the band plied onstage at DC9 on Wednesday with huge black X’s on their hands that shrieked UNDERAGE to everyone who’s been alive long enough to drink beer in America, it would have taken a Herculean effort to erase the aura of youth and potential inexperience. Fully up to the task, the front four members of LGC -- whose collective age is equivalent to 1.7 Rolling Stones -- stepped up to a line of mikes and opened the show with three minutes of soul-melting a cappella, and from that moment forward they owned the room.
Falling effortlessly into “Goodbye Blue Monday,” the closing track from their forthcoming debut Absolute Zero, lead singer Stevie Appleby accompanied harmonic backing vocals with an acoustic guitar and the effect was sparkly-new-indie-band crossed with children’s-church-choir. By the time the band reached “Harper Lee,” the second single off the album and an obvious crowd favorite, the combination of Appleby’s soaring falsetto and Faye O’Rourke’s Cranberries-esque vocals proved why every SXSW attendee had “Go See This Band or Your Grandma Will Get Shingles” tattooed on their foreheads after leaving their show. Performing a beautiful and faithful rendition of that song, the band clearly recognized that they are too new on the scene to start screwing around with one of the only two songs most of the crowd had heard before.
After a broken guitar string and a quick poem about the month they’ve spent in the United States, Appleby led the band through “Angel Owl,” before devolving into a lot of inexplicable gibberish in thick Irish brogue. As usual, when you already own the crowd, no one cares when shit goes awry, and one of the continual surprising things about Little Green Cars was how remarkably poised and comfortable on stage they all are at such a young age. That’s partially explained by the fact that they’ve been together for five years already, forming when everyone was 15, and partially because they’re just really fucking good.
There were a few glitches along the way that weren’t so easily overcome, and some of the weaker points on the album were also a bit weak live. In “Please,” O’Rourke’s remarkable voice clutches at the low-register portions of the song, drowning in territory where it just doesn’t belong. She’s got a tremendous grasp of the mid- to upper-octaves, and the song should have been written in a higher key – it’s otherwise beautifully crafted on its merits. After an up-tempo “Big Red Dragon,” filled with chanting lyrics and some palate-cleansing wah wah wahs, O’Rourke reminded us of where she excels by practically killing everyone with “Kitchen Floor.” It was chill-inducing to watch her stand in front of the microphone, hands in her pockets and eyes closed for much of the song, and sing out lyrics like a raw exposed nerve. Perfect harmony totally fucks up your emotional equilibrium, and at the close of the song two dudes behind us were openly weeping.
Yeah, it was that powerful. Grown-ass men, crying in DC9. And then laughing about it.
The harmonizing vocals reunited behind Appleby for “Them,” before O’Rourke took over again on “River Song.” With back-up delivered at an auctioneer’s frenzied pace, she belted out agonizing lyrics in what could be described as estrogen-laced Pogues, but unfortunately a barrage of feedback clouded what should have been a closing opportunity to show off her voice. In keeping with the tone of the evening, O’Rourke seemed completely unfazed by the electronic interruption, and made the most of it with dog-like head fakes as if she were listening to a whistle. The issue fortunately straightened itself out and the song ended on a beautiful note, before the inevitable closer.
“The John Wayne,” released last fall as the first single from Absolute Zero, is an almost perfect song, with Appleby’s vocals and stair-stepping harmonies full of longing, a giant wall of guitars, a driving drum beat, and tortured lyrics about unrequited love at an age where that shit still makes you feel like you’re going to die. With the quality of sound coming off the very intimate stage, delivered to a very packed room of fans well-versed in YouTube versions of songs so far released, about the only bad thing anyone can say about Little Green Cars is that they are eight years late to the Fleet Foxes party. Since they were probably in elementary school when all that went down we’re going to let it slide. Seeing a band with this much talent in such an intimate venue only makes you scratch your head and wonder how far these guys are going to go.
That, and if you can get away with sneaking them a beer as a thanks for a great evening.