In a time when mass audiences have deemed boy bands obsolete and indie hipsters have condemned mainstream pop as “selling out”, The Last Goodbye walks a fine line between two cultures. On the one hand, the Connecticut-based sixsome is reminiscent of pop years passed, complete with catchy melodies and harmonized choruses. Currently on tour with American Idol star Elliot Yamin, the band stands next to him on the forefront of today’s pop world. On the other hand, there are contradictions to this mega-pop image: lead singer Kurtis John rocks a serious mohawk, they myspace, they hang out with fans at the merch booth after shows. They are the boy-band-with-attitude. They are the quintessential band of mainstream alternative; or the alternative to a mainstream that no longer exists. And just like a pop hit, the more you listen, the more you want to listen; they are your typical guilty pleasure, only a little more bad ass.
Their latest album’s lead single “Pictures of You” – like the band itself, like its spot on the ABC series “Brother and Sisters” – succeeds at being both cliche and poignant. John’s strong voice is the focal point of the song, and the music can be desribed as simple mainstream modern rock. The lyrics comment on the war: “This is the war that’s never won/This is a soldier and his gun/This is the mother waiting by the phone/Praying for her son” government conspiracies: “There is a drug that cures it all/Blocked by the governmental wall” yet still attempts to fall into the graces of the vicarious listener: “Confess to me, all that lies between us/All that lies between you and me.” It is unclear whether this is a genuine flow of ideas or a desperate attempt to become popular with a variety of audiences; but regardless, it seems to be succeeding.The other sounds on the album span a wide range of genres. There is definitely jazz influence to many of the songs; the title track, “Poison Kiss” starts with a soulful, yet eerie melody (think skeleton playing the organ) but soon breaks into an upbeat Maroon 5-like sound, with John singing about how “you can’t control the way [this poison kiss] enters your soul.”
The next track, “Stay Beautiful”, screams cheesy, upbeat nineties pop with lyrics like, “Sunday morning out the door/you were coming back for more/we were kicking it all around/I was looking in your eyes/you thought it was justified/you said m m m more.” Despite the overly simplistic rhyming, I couldn’t help but visualize this and compare it to the Sunday morning of a typical Toad’s-goer. Throw in the excessive amount of “ba da da”s, and the song has you bopping up and down, completely ignoring the question of whether this album is bubblegum rock or the first album of America’s next superstars.
For the majority of “This Is the Sound” I actually thought I was listening to The Backstreet Boys. I could just see the guys singing their hearts out in empty field, the rain strategically falling down upon their… mohawks? I wonder what a mohawk looks like when it’s wet. Maybe it would resemble one of those circa-1997 bowl cuts; that would be amazing.
Anyway, the album as a whole has an eclectic sound, filled with elements of “soul, desperation, rock, pop, and jazz,” keyboardist/guitarist/harmonica-player Anton Yurack said in a phone interview, and their influences range from Ella Fitzgerald to Richard Ashcroft to U2. He described their studio sessions as “a little chaotic, but in a good way.”
“We are six guys, with six personal lives, and six backgrounds,” he said. “Our music is like a huge boiling pot.”
Not just their music, but their fans, as well. Yurack said TLG sees “an overwhelming love for the band from different genres each day.” On their tours, they play in a variety of venues that range from large arenas, to House of Blues, to smaller clubs, earning love and respect from people of all ages, countries and social groups.
When I asked how he felt about touring with pop sensation Elliot Yamin, he said, “Elliot is a really great musician, and a super sweet guy. We are all good friends, and that makes it such an amazing experience to be on this tour.” Although the members of TLG have never seen “American Idol,” (a couple brownie points in the cool department) Yurack said they respect how Yamin “came from an amazing TV show to become a successful independent artist.”
I was suprised at Yurack’s lack of acknowledgment of the stigmas associated with being on a large scale pop-based tour, especially for aspiring alternative rockers. But then again, TLG became successful in such a short period of time that they went from zero to on-the-verge-of-huge without being part of the underground scene. (This may have to do with their record deal with Virgin records; because at Virgin, the philosophy is basically “go big or go home.”) Yurack helped me to realize the truth, per TLG: success is success, no matter what form it takes. And if their Myspace is filled with love, their concerts full of adoring fans, they must be doing something right.
The Last Goodbye’s November 21 concert at Webster Theatre in Hartford will not only be their first time playing in Connecticut during this tour, but their first time home in months. In the last half-year, they have spent only a week at their homes. Taking place the day before Thanksgiving, the concert will not only bring the band members back to their roots, but will fill the venue with hometown fans. And they are excited: “We don’t get to play in Connecticut much now that we’re on tour, but we are so glad to come home and see all of the support for us. We grew up here, and it is a good feeling to see people who are passionate about the band.”
So what should the audience expect at a typical concert? “I would say we have a lot more energy at a live show. There is a lot of audience participation, complete with claps, stops and oohs.” Sound like that concert you went to in middle school? Maybe. Did you have fun? Absolutely. My advice to you (if you happen to be in town on the 21st): go to the concert. Clap. Stop. Ooh. Then when The Last Goodbye gets huge, you can say you saw them before they sold out. And no one will ever know the truth.