When I stooped into the basement of 660 Stewart on Saturday night to catch the debut performance of Cornell’s own West End China Shop, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Going to Fanclub Collective and Ithaca Undergound shows, one sees their fair share of lo-fi rock bands. While there are many standouts, far more common are the acts which are perfectly forgettable. Would West End China Shop be yet another half-serious, irony-soaked project by a group of 20-somethings who, at the end of the day, probably had something better to do? Another whiney, soul-bearing emo band? Another technically skilled, but conceptually uninteresting, post-rock outfit?
One possibility I hadn’t considered was that they’d be really fucking good. As I found my place in the packed and bumping crowd and finally opened my ears to the sounds coming from the amplifiers, I was delightfully surprised. Where I’d half expected would be lackadaisicalness and pretentious distance were genuine passion and engagement, and all of a sudden I was forced to consider whether or not the Facebook-event-page promise of a “night of toe-tappin’ rock n’ roll music” had indeed been ironic.
The frontman sounded like Stooges era Iggy Pop, or Velvet Undergound era Lou Reed, and damn near had the stage presence to match. After the set, I heard a Bob Dylan comparison kicking around, which, if I didn’t quite agree with it at the time, seems totally valid now that I’ve listened to the band’s recordings on Bandcamp. “Because I’m alone,” he sang on standout track “October,” “and I end up stoned/I got no home/I could be hanging with the wrong crowd,” and for better or worse I think most of the room could relate. Accompanying his voice was well-crafted, punk-tinged, rock n’ roll, underpinned by a keyboard which balanced the raw power with its melodious warmth. The band played self-described “bangers” from their latest and first release “WM Demos,” and finished up with a cover, apropos to their aesthetic, of Weezer’s “Undone —The Sweater Song.”
I stayed to hear the next couple of acts as well (Groupie and Idaho Green) — two bands more established than West End China Shop, who put on impressive and enjoyable performances — but I daresay that it was China Shop who stole the show. I couldn’t be more excited to see what they manage to do and release in the coming months.
Matt Pegan is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.