Every city has one. In fact, some cities have more than one. They are as essential to the fabric of a largely populated area as public transportation, strip malls and overpriced dinners. They are as persistent as they are talented, as overlooked as they are praised, as much of an enigma as they are a certainty. And as much a nuisance as they are a necessity. They are staples of any so-called metropolitan area’s music scene, and they are somewhat of a requirement for any budding nightlife.
They are The Local Band.
But they aren’t just any local band, mind you. They are The Local Band — the one that happens to prove themselves as a cut above the rest while never managing to produce that one breakthrough song to propel them to national stardom. They exist in every city as those acts that have the hearts of all the music-loving, die-hard, uber-excited pseudo-hipsters within a 75-mile radius of the city’s most-frequented music venue. Pittsburgh’s case is The Clarks, a pop-rock outfit that could never seem to catapult themselves into the national music scene’s lexicon while still selling out amphitheaters and clubs throughout all the Steel City. Los Angeles had a little band called Maroon 5, until Adam Levine and his buddies decided to take it a step further, making way for Fitz and the Tantrums, who are now quickly doing their best to shed the local tag themselves as we speak.
The most recent formidable example of such an entity around these parts is Rockville’s O.A.R., a band whose cult-following has helped propel them into the national spotlight with opening slots on heavyweight tours and a pretty healthy ability to even headline cross-country treks by themselves. But remember: for every Rusted Root, therein lies another The Clarks right around the corner. And in O.A.R.’s case, it would be fair to assess Silver Spring’s Lloyd Dobler Effect as one of the candidates to fill that second-tier void every large music scene needs.
LDE’s latest, “The Experience Unplugged,” makes a good case for the group, too. A two-disc set that was recorded over the course of three shows in the Baltimore/Washington area (two in 2009 and one in 2010), the release is a testament to what not giving up can bring to a band that has all the talent and accessibility one could ever ask for. It’s a polished portrait of what it’s like to thrive in a position that’s not always considered when judging the success of a musical act.
It doesn’t hurt that the band is joined here by Chris Brooks’ tasteful piano, Albert Ketler’s exquisite tenor saxophone and Elizabeth Coyle Kominski’s fantastically effective voice, helping make the LDE sound way more interesting than the normal pop-rock sound these guys typically opt for. It’s that combination of talents displayed throughout both discs that makes “The Experience Unplugged” worth any local music fan’s time.
Part of what makes this release successful is the intertwined setlist that features enough covers to keep a casual listener’s attention and enough reworked arrangements to ensure a longtime follower’s praise. LDE staple “Meet Me In London,” for instance, is the highlight of this collection because of its twangy guitar, ragtime piano and boogie feel, three things not featured in the straight-forward original recording. By the time Ketler’s tenor bridges the first and second verses, it can only be viewed as a cherry on top of an already-delicious ice cream sundae. “Radio,” another of the band’s mainstays, is toned down here, though the acoustic approach somehow manages to accentuate the pop-soul groove. The backing vocals are a nice treat, too, fitting in perfectly behind lead singer Phil Kominski’s radio (get it!) ready voice.
But what makes this quite possibly the best LDE release is the help of those aforementioned musicians. “The Experience Unplugged” is exhibit A when it comes to making the case for Elizabeth Coyle Kominski being a permanent member of the band. Her lead-lady aura bleeds through each song with the force of a hurricane and each time she steps to the microphone, another memorable moment is right around the corner. “I Know You,” “Even Wildflowers Grow,” Mickey and Sylvia’s classic “Love Is Strange” and “Spare Change” only scratch the surface of what this band could be if they decided to let that hippie-soul voice stick around full time. Her efforts pay homage to so many great and unique female vocals that comparing her to others would be a disservice to the diversity and power she brings.
Her presence also allows the sound of the band to expand. Their take on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” could just as well come off as generic and cheap, but these guys somehow make it seem OK and a lot of that ability is easily tied to the presence of both saxophone and piano. “Little Boxes” is just a boatload of fun with its Caribbean backdrop, and there is no way the song would have been possible to produce without the help of each one of the eight players involved. And then there’s “Graceland.” Yes. That “Graceland.” The group gets points for even trying to pull off the Paul Simon classic, and to think they manage a respectable rendition is a tribute to both the band’s growth and longevity.
If nothing else, “The Unplugged Experience” will end up being LDE’s best release this year (a Christmas album is expected sometime next month). There’s even a good chance that this two-disc set is going to go down as the best the band gets on a record. But regardless of how this release goes down in the annals of LDE history, one thing is certain: being The Local Band is a whole lot better than being one of the many Bad Bands local music scenes produce.
*** 3 STARS OUT OF 4 ***