May 23, 2014

This Los Angeles-based duo may have a simple name, but PAPA is anything but plain. With Darren Weiss keeping the band’s rhythm on the drums while singing the subtle, yet sexually charged lyrics co-written by bassist Danny Presant, this band is a force to be reckoned with.

PAPA kicked off their spring tour at The Independent last Friday, saying, “This is the start of a very long tour, but I can’t think of a better city to spend it in or better fans to spend it with.” The audience hooted in response, equally, if not more excited, to be spending their Friday night with the band. The simplicity of the venue was aptly matched to PAPA’s style: a stage, a dance floor, and some bench seats along the walls. It was unadorned, down-to-earth, and allowed all focus to be where it ought to be — on the musicians and their music. The dance floor was filled with guys and girls in their late 20s, sporting flannels and jeans, with a sprinkling of baby-boomers, everyone with a beer in their hand. The scene had a relaxed, hipster vibe, and everyone looked ready to kick back to some great tunes.

The opener, the Tambo Rays, meandered onto the stage, calling for the audience’s attention with the twangs of tuning their instruments, breaking into a new song right from the start. With songs titled “Rest Your Mind in the Sky” and “Ocean”, the self-proclaimed “sun-worshippers” from Oakland made the most of their stage time, performing some new material and playing off the energy of the accepting crowd. They closed their jam session with a meditative reflection from the lead vocalist and a cheers-ing of their beers, before climbing off the stage and joining the audience to await PAPA’s performance.

Conversations resumed as crews set up the stage for the main act, but a hush came over the crowd as soon as the sparkling gold drum set was complete. Everyone was holding their breath for PAPA to emerge from behind the backstage curtain. And then, screams and shouts as Darren sat down behind his drums and Danny picked up his bass guitar. The band jumped straight into “If You’re My Girl, Then I’m Your Man”, a fantastic number with conversational lyrics and a steady rhythm you can’t help but bounce along to. Standing up against the stage, the beat vibrated through my chest and filled my bones with sound. I was immediately infatuated by their Americana style.

Their ten-song set was a brilliant sampling of their refreshing take on music, ranging from a new piece, “Eat My Radio,” with intriguing guitar licks and a rockin’ chorus to “an older one that’s rather sexual — ‘Let’s Make You Pregnant,’” with a nostalgic sound reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen. Mixing old and new songs from both their EP and recent album Tender Madness, PAPA had the crowd jumping with fists pumping, swaying with eyes closed, and singing along with unabashed enthusiasm. Everyone was having so much fun, that when the final chord faded, a collective moan echoed through The Independent.

PAPA returned for a two-song encore, first exploding into a fantastic cover of Pat Benatar’s  “Love Is a Battlefield,” before calling out to the crowd, “Anyone who wants to come on stage with us and dance… get up here!” for the final song of the night. It was a scene to behold, a flashback of their encore performance at Bottom of the Hill last November — dozens of people crammed onto the tiny stage, dancing with the band — and I couldn’t help but agree with Darren’s exclamations of “I feel good at the PAPA show tonight!”

Photos by Jennifer Horton / Staff