Passionate and Faithful: “Backstage” with Echo Echo and Alex Mercier
by Joy Shannon
On Thursday February 9th, I was invited to attend a “Backstage” concert filming at DPS Productions in Irvine. I found myself in a dark industrial complex near John Wayne Airport and wondered where the concert could be amongst the rows of identical office buildings closed for the night. Yet, just around a corner I discovered a crowded and lively studio that looked like it was airlifted from a Los Angeles film lot. I have previously been to similar filmings in Los Angeles for artists like PJ Harvey, and was truly pleasantly surprised to see such an event happening in Orange County with such professionalism used to promote local talent. In addition to providing exposure for local bands, these monthly “Backstage” events also promote DPS Productions itself which is an event company which provides staging, lighting, audio, visual and video production for music, fashion and corporate events.
The event was an invite-only performance of the Los Angeles-based singer Alex Mercier and the Santa Ana-based band Echo Echo. Echo Echo, who are nominated for the the 2012 OC Music Award for best rock band, opened with a passionate and energetic set which would have been just as well suited for an arena stage, opening for a band like U2. In fact, both singer Steve Carson’s voice and lyrics about universal themes of faith, love and trust bring Bono to mind. Guitarist Jameson Burt, bassist Bruce Yolken, drummer Darren Carr and keyboardist Andrew Wesley played in tight symbiosis with Steve Carson’s emotional performance. During their set, in which they played several songs from their latest release Dripping From the Undercoat, I could hear various musical influences coming from the different members of the band which-all combined- created a bluesy, anthem rock sound similar to such acts as the Kings of Leon or U2. Speaking with Echo Echo after their show, the band affirmed that they all have very different tastes in music and when they come together to write their songs, they create an interesting hybrid of styles. My favorite song of their set was their passionate final number “Logical” which confronted the struggles to have faith in a higher power.
I personally appreciated Echo Echo’s working class band attitude as well as their close knit friendships of many years. The band started out as the Steve Carson Band, reflecting how it was singer Carson’s brainchild, yet the band changed their name as the various members began to form a true collaboration together. Echo Echo’s February 9th performance was a perfect reflection of that collaboration and connection between band members on stage. They believe in each other and the music they make and it shows. Singer Steve Carson told me that his current favorite quote was from Thomas Edison: “The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Though presently unemployed, Carson maintained a faithful and determined attitude about sticking with his goals for his band’s music. I can personally sympathize as a musician myself, and it was refreshing to see a band of friends working together to do what they love against whatever obstacles come their way.
A fun side note about Echo Echo is that the fictional band on the IFC show Portlandia, comprised of the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, the Shins/Broken Bells’ James Mercer and Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker, was called “Echo Echo” as well. Santa Ana’s Echo Echo, who were named years before Portlandia, were asked their permission by the show’s producers to use their name and they agreed. Singer Steve Carson has said that it has increased the online traffic to their music.
After Echo Echo, Alex Mercier and his Los Angeles-based band took the stage. Mercier is a true showman, seemingly effortlessly making the audience feel part of his show. His band created a sound that was at times synth-pop, R&B and pop rock which recalled the likes of John Mayer, Justin Timberlake, and Jason Mraz. Mercier’s band was tight and polished, though I was surprised to hear from Mercier after the show that this was their first show altogether as a band. Their tight set foreshadowed a bright future ahead for this band. My favorite moment in their set was when the keyboardist Benj Heard played banjo and synths, with the banjo adding a warm folkiness to the pop sound. Keyboardist Heard and Mercier switched off singing lead and backing vocals at times, which added an interesting vocal diversity to their sound. After the show, Mercier, who also plays in a band called “Bad Decisions,” spoke to me about how his band’s goal is to write music which is “sentimental with a pulse,” relatable songs that are both fun and real.
A crowd favorite was when Mercier’s band showed off their skills and played a Girl Talk-esque mash-up of covers including Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” Aha’s “Take on Me,” and U2’s “With or Without You.” The band finished with a “Cosmic Waltz” as Mercier called it, which was a touching and stylish song felt like it was realizing the band’s songwriting goal perfectly: “sentimental” and real.
The show can be viewed online here:
Echo Echo: http://www.facebook.com/weareechoecho
Alex Mercier: http://www.facebook.com/alexmerciermusic