Tonight’s Beauty Bar show has been marketed as a kind of Thursday-night new-wave twin bill. On one hand, the audience can hear Close to Modern, a UNLV-bred foursome embodying the darker side of synth-pop—that stylized teen angst pioneered by Robert Smith and Ian Curtis and taken up by recent bands such as Editors and Interpol. On the other, listeners can enjoy Neon Facade, a more dance-oriented four-piece whose immediate influences are European (Spiritualized, New Order, Brian Eno), but whose sound can still be characterized as new wave.
And that’s where the two acts’ similarities end. Inside the club, each band’s true colors—or perhaps shades of gray, as both groups are dressed in postmodern black attire—emerge.
“Arenas!” screams Phil Adkins, Close to Modern’s drummer, when asked about the group’s eventual touring goals. Snippets of laughter ensue before Fernando Lara, the band’s lead guitarist (and clear Wilmer Valderrama clone), answers in seriousness: “We’re trying to play around Vegas and [also] branch out.” When asked the same question, the lead singer of Neon Facade—who goes only by the name Serge—responds, “Our ambitions are unparalleled. We’re going all the way.”
While Serge’s band delays in setting up, angering the group slated to follow (Slow to Surface), Close to Modern’s performance is clean, well-structured and relatively professional. At the forefront: the band’s writing. The dark and catchy “Where From Here” is single-worthy, while the slower, more deliberate “Before We Drown” comes off as a goth version of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time (Summertime).”
Consistent with its version of new wave (though some might call it next wave, since new wave was technically an ’80s phenomenon), almost all of Modern’s songs are played in a minor key. To the group’s credit, however, its members seem aware of this tendency; the dreary “Hours,” for example, is reinvigorated with a throbbing, punky second half.
Lead singer Miguel Martinez could be a little less understated on stage—his boldest move consists of striking a “Thinker” pose—but then again, Neon Facade’s Serge errs on the outlandish side. After beginning the set by muttering something in what sounds like German, he follows the band’s third song with a sarcastic, “Thank you … it means a lot to me.” Facade’s backing musicians appear hardworking and in sync, but their efforts are overshadowed by Serge’s spins, leg kicks, fist pumps and general bravado. “Songs” are more like electronic sound extensions: poor facsimiles of the weaker moments on Blur’s 13.
Although showmanship and arrogance do have a place in rock ’n’ roll, there is perhaps a bigger place for genuine earnestness. In this way, Close to Modern is really quite traditional.