Nico Vega @ The El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, CA 2/26/2010: They Are Giving
Nico Vega is Aja Volkman (Vox), Rich Koehler (Guitar), and Dan Epand (Drums); three individual bodies composing a singular combustible powerhouse. If you’ve ever wondered what the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun would sound like in recorded form, get yourself a copy of Nico Vega’s full length album and press ‘play’. On record their sound is challenging, and I mean that in a good way. Lyrically, musically they push and they push you around because of an inherent belief that we’re better than the average ground that we stand upon. In the live, that bullying is amplified by a factor of 10 as Nico Vega will abuse you with their love and damned if their audience doesn’t feed upon it whole.
Tonight their elevated place of authority was on the El Rey stage in front of the Los Angeles faithful who covet and claim them as their own. Once the curtain rose, the onslaught began with the immediate, seductive and sexual slink of “Taxi Cab” brought to life by the impressive spacey ambiance of Rich’s guitar, Dan’s thunderous percussion, and by a shrouded creature in pink and white with bare feet that connect her to the Earth. It didn’t take long before that being in pink and white became an unrestrained, howling, kinetic force of witchy empowerment. Aja’s voice is a blunt instrument unto itself and unlike any other: it rails ferocity and fragility somewhere between the likes of Bjork and Grace Slick but the voice is all Aja as it bellows from the depths of that tiny body of hers.
Nico Vega’s set traveled the familiar territory of unifying the initiated and uninitiated, alike, within their tribe. This band is an unusual being in that it looks, sounds, and feels nothing like what is so commonplace on the music scene; their intensity is as authentic as it is necessary, for it’s the only way they know how to communicate. With ‘only’ three members, Rich bears a great load on guitar as the chief noisemaker, but glance at his pedal board and know that he has all the tools that he needs to create aggressive shifts and tones from bass to lead. Throw in some fancy footwork ala James Brown and a mop of curls and you’ve got an axe slinger adept at the art of ebb and explode. I’m fond of the saying, “A band is only as good as its drummer.” which, if you subscribe to that theory, means that Nico Vega may just be the best band on the planet. Sometimes drummers are little more than background accompaniment, but Dan is more a force of nature, as tribal and primal as the instrument that he beats the shit out of. Between the beats he summons the beautiful violence that is the pulse of their songs and spending as much time levitated as he does seated due to his propulsive rhythmic nature, you simply cannot imagine this band without that kind of riot.
Artifice, posturing, bling, game, ego, etc…these things seem to have no purpose here; its heart, soul, and unity that are firmly in their place championing change and connection on every level from personal to global. Their brand of rock/soul is tribal and social, political and loving, ethereal and sexual, and if you happen to get a little turned during a show, believe me, you’re not the first and you won’t be the last. As much a physical performer as a vocal one, Aja thrusts, kicks, and punches out every song almost as if the notes are coming from her appendages as well as her mouth only to soothingly balm any wound you may have suffered. Watch her. Tell me that she doesn’t ‘sing’ with every cell of her body whether she’s writhing on the stage floor during Rich’s blues odyssey guitar solo, climbing Dan’s bass drum, or stalking the edges of the stage to get closer, never losing her place as a musical priestess.
How did the El Rey crowd respond to Nico Vega? Like children being lead by the Pied Piper, dancing, singing, and fist pumping on command during “Gravity” with “Pick it up! Pick it up!” and souls exposed during the societal call to arms, “Beast”. One particularly shake-your-groove-thing moment in their set comes from the sassiness of “So So Fresh” despite having an off-tempo moment. I’ve heard the song live 2-3 times and it’s never been perfect but I don’t look for technical perfection from Nico Vega; I look to musically and emotionally transcend in a crowd of many to the point where we feel like one. Therein lays the perfection of Nico Vega.
“One good thing about music when it hits you, feel no pain. So hit me with music, hit me with music now, brutalize me with music” – Bob Marley
When he spoke those words, I think Bob may have had the likes of Nico Vega in mind.