Show Date: February 26, 2011
Although this was not my first time seeing local band Hotels, this was my first visit to the Columbia City Theater. The theater recently came under new management, who renovated it and re-opened it this past June to rave reviews. The theater certainly has the history, hosting the likes of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Jimi Hendrix in it’s earlier years. At a capacity of 350 people, think narrow version of the Crocodile, minus the balcony.
Hotels opened their set in turn-back-the-clock style with lead singer and bassist Blake Madden playing the role of a Frank Sinatra-type casino lounge singer for their set opener, “The Heart That Beats Like A Bat” from their 2009 album Where Hearts Go Broke. Freed of the constraints of playing the bass (at least for this song), Madden was able to swoon and sway, even holding a half full drink in one hand. His tuxedo certainly helped him look the part. They were joined on stage by local singer/songwriter Gabriel Mintz on accoustic guitar, and Mono in VCF front woman Kim Miller on back-up vocals. Although Mintz’s acoustic got lost at times behind the sound of synths and electric guitar, his vocals were a nice addition to many of the new songs. Miller’s vocals also provided a welcome female contrast to Madden’s deeper voice, and while her voice was rarely at the forefront, she was certainly not drowned out on stage either. It’s worth noting that in her classy red evening dress, she looked like a fine counterpart to Madden’s lounge singer vibe. After setting the stage with the slow burning opener, they picked up the pace with the opening track “From The West” from their brand new album On The Casino Floor.
For those note up on the band’s history: in the past, Hotels has mostly been a four-piece band. They recently lost drummer Max Wood and replaced him with Aaron Voros, but it seems like at some point since parting ways with Wood, they’ve brought him back: he played drums for all the tracks on the new album, and although Voros played drums for most this show, Wood still made his presence felt by playing keys, tambourine and an assortment of other electronic instruments. Dressed up in his army fatigues and glasses, he also bore a striking resemblance to Radar from M*A*S*H*. And at numerous points throughout the show, they were joined by burlesque dancer Lulu Bell, who made several appearances in a variety of different attires, providing and alternate form of entertainment for the show as well as adding to the casino-like ambiance.
The set list stuck to mostly newer material — after all, this was an album release show. And it was nice to see the lively crowd respond rather positively to the new material, particularly standout tracks “The Bat Watusi” and “Trouble at the Consulate” — a song which features Hotels at their best — with uptempo drum machine and a James Bond-inspired bass line laying the groundwork for a spooky synth-laden gem that is hard not to nod along with. They ended their set with another track from Where Hearts Go Broke titled “Port of Saints.” The encore saw Max Wood back on drums for “Atlantic”, an old standout from their first album, 2005’s Thank You For Choosing….
Their latest album is only seven tracks long, although three of those songs either surpass or come close to the 7 minute mark. If you haven’t picked it up yet, or happened to miss out on this show, no need to worry — Hotels will be playing at the High Dive on April 2nd with Strong Like Woman and Ghost Town Riot.