Live Review: The Rentals at the Irenic, June 4, 2015

The Rentals

Watching a band perform inside of a church is always a nice experience, especially when there are stained glass windows all around and a slanted floor designed so there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Listening to that same band, however, isn’t the same story at all.

The sound at the Irenic has disappointed me and other people I’ve spoken with time and time again. The walls there seem to bounce the sounds around so much that it all becomes one big jumble of music, making it hard to decipher one sound from another.

Unfortunately, The Rentals‘ show last Thursday night was no exception. In fact, with the band’s heavy reliance on the warm and fuzzy sounds that emanate from its Moog synthesizer, it might have been one of the worst jumbles of music I’ve heard there yet.

But as a testament to just how damn awesome The Rentals are, it was still one hell of a show. This was due in large part to frontman Matt Sharp’s enigmatic, captivating, and at times hilarious stage presence. Constantly wandering the stage like a kid who can’t sit still in class, Sharp kept the audience’s attention with a deadpan, tongue-in-cheek, theatrical sensibility. At one point, he draped himself in the Barcelona flag, climbed precariously onto a ledge, and started singing the lyrics to “Barcelona” through a megaphone.

One of the highlights of The Rentals’ albums is the lovely female vocals, which provide such an endearing energy to the music. But through the chaotic mix of guitars, drums, and Moog, it was hard to hear the ladies singing at all. That’s a shame because what little of the vocals that was discernible sounded promising, like it could have done the old albums justice.

A moment of relief from the less-than-impressive sounds from the stage came when Sharp and his two keyboardists/backup singers waded into the middle of the audience. Assisted by only a flashlight, a microphone, and a weird muzak type of player, the trio performed a version of “It’s All Right”. Sharp told a story about how this was the first song he heard the two ladies sing when they auditioned and he knew they were the right women for the job. This brief interlude was a highlight of the evening for sure.

Another highlight came during the encore by way of The Rentals’ most popular song, “Friends of P.” As the band started jamming towards the middle of the song, Sharp disappeared behind the stage door. He reappeared wearing a Ghostbusters costume just as the band effortlessly dove into the theme song from the movie. He did a whole little skit about the “haunted” church and ended up getting rid of most of the ghosts as the audience sang along.

The Rentals released a great new album last year after a 14-year hiatus, and they’ve been touring pretty heavily to support it. I’m hoping this means there will be more albums and tours in the future. And I’m hoping even more that, the next time they come around to San Diego, they’ll find a better venue for their ghostbusting.

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