Familiar Looking Strangers @ The Hotel Cafe

Familiar Looking Strangers | The Hotel Cafe (Los Angeles, CA) | May 29, 2014 |

FACT: The final time slot of the evening at most club venues – in this case, midnight – is oh so rarely ideal or any band’s choice. But so goes the road that every young or new band that is not a super group or made up of rock star progeny has to travel. Case in point: Familiar Looking Strangers at Hotel Cafe, a venue designed to cradle the intimacy evoked by the singer/songwriter genre but just as often welcomes noisier, more full-bodied fare like five blokes from Liverpool, England (one of whom is actually a Spaniard) who sound more like they hail from somewhere in Midwest USA.

Familiar Looking Strangers

© Trina Green, 2014

Across the pond, Brits have long held a reverence for good, old-fashioned American blues, soul and rootsy rock music. Familiar Looking Strangers: Vinny McPoland (vox), Paul Baker (guitar), Carlos Lopez (guitar), Jon Goldby (bass) and Ben Gorry (drums) are keeping that tradition alive and well. At 11:58pm when the first guitars chords rang (starting their set two minutes early did not go unnoticed, thank you) the Hotel Cafe crowd was painfully small. It was a Thursday night in Los Angeles, indeed. Among those in the room were a few familiar faces, people that the band had only met the night before somewhere in LA. They have an endearing quality that can touch upon a number of facets appealing to the musical ear: fiery guitars, earthy rhythms and lyrical directness buoyed by the warm and soulfully potent voice of McPoland. Even late at night, Liverpool action with those qualities is never a bad thing. This was the third night of a three-month tour, their first major trek through the United States. If they keep this up, the sound of them, as well as word of mouth, should serve them well as the tour progresses.

The song “Saturday Night,” with its dark tale-telling of urban decay and a backbone of Detroit soul and wah wah pedal, is the most popular gauge of what these gents offer. But it’s not the only gauge of what they’re capable of. “Anytime You Like” is particularly shiny, hip shaking and uplifted by some healthy tambourine. “Is It Gonna Bleed” treads and stomps through pleading for romantic mercy in the vein of the Temptations… if the Temptations moonlighted as the Allman Brothers. What’s particularly charming about this outfit is their air of everyman-ness, playing to a room of 20 as earnestly as if playing to a room of 200. And in typical foreign fashion, McPoland’s English/Liverpool tongue was so thick that the struggle to understand his in-between song commentary was comedic, yet his singing elocution was perfectly neutral.

So a good show from Familiar Looking Strangers? More like a damned good show and one that you suspect will only get better with time and with larger crowds on hand to witness them. The fact that a Hotel Cafe bartender – someone who sees and hears music on a nightly basis to a point where it’s often just background noise – made it her business to tell the band how much she enjoyed them once their set was done spoke volumes. All that was missing was a song of lower tempo, almost swoon-worthy fare, a vehicle where McPoland could display what command and control he has of his range and flexibility. You want that from voices like his. It would also give the band the chance to be more musically emotional. Here’s hoping such a gem finds its way into their set by the end of this tour.