Music » Live Music Reviews

The Kemps at White Rabbit

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Wednesday, Mar. 20
White Rabbit

Last week was a rough one for Indy’s premier purveyors of souped-up garage rock, The Kemps. Only a few days after their gig at the Melody Inn on Mar. 10, their studio was broken into and they lost not only some instruments and recording equipment, but also the computer on which resided the only copy of their new album. It’s the kind of news that makes a Kemps fan cringe in pain; however, bassist Tyler Bowman said they plan to re-record the album as soon as possible.

The Kemps dropped off the radar screen over the winter, just as they seemed—along with Vacation Club—to be becoming one of the city’s most exciting new bands. However, they are back with a new lineup, a tighter sound and, though not exactly a new album just quite yet, an album’s worth of new songs, all of which they played in a blisteringly fast set on Saturday night at the White Rabbit.

Starting out as a foursome in 2010, the Kemps are now a trio. Bowman, a veteran of local groups like America Owns the Moon, has moved from drums to bass, Geoff Albertson has taken over on drums, and Jared Birden still leads the way on guitar and vocals. Even with the prior lineup the Kemps had a contagious chaos to their sound, but the new incarnation seems to have channeled and amplified that energy into tighter song structures and an even more ballsy and avant-garde garage sound.

Their uber-short songs are like electrocutions. They are lightning quick and blisteringly intense, and when they’re over you are left wondering, “What the hell just happened?” When you watch the Kemps, with their fast choppy riffs, rocking bass, and psychotically-perfect drumming, there is no time for contemplation. You must simply absorb what you can, while you can, riding the lightning for as long as it lasts.

And yet there is a sultry, sensual, even arty quality about their songs; a not altogether easily definable quality that sets them apart from mere garage rock or punk. Maybe it’s Birden’s languid wail, or the angular way the songs seem to rock along and then drop off a cliff into the chorus, that makes them almost like works of modern art. Along with that, the tight jeans, Beatle boots, the leather jackets, make them seem like a throwback and yet a glimpse into a much cooler future.

The Kemps played for what couldn’t have been more than 30 minutes before exiting stage left and leaving the crowd begging for more. For a glimpse of what is sure to be an unbelievable album, click here.

The Kemps were supported by local heavy metal outfit Skyhunter. Though they don’t particularly dress like metal gods—their lead guitarist wore a sport coat pushed up to his elbows—and their sound is a little cleaner than most practitioners of said genre, they spare no expense when it comes to the thick, chainsaw-type guitar sound. With a bass that seemed to be tuned in Drop D, they generated an extra subterranean level of depth, while pulling off a sound that hovered somewhere between Black Sabbath and Molly Hatchet, with that twinge of straight-up classic rock guitar work.

Indy-based acts Rooms and Bad Squids also started out the night. Rooms play a languid, poly-rythymic post-punk with odd breakdowns in the middle of the songs and precise, mathy guitar parts. They sounded at times a little dissonant; their songs seemed almost to slow down to a stop in the middle. Not an impossible effect to pull off, but one that must be done carefully or else it just kind of sounds saggy. Bad Squids opened this lengthy bill. A two-man act at this point (using the Kemps’ drummer) they played a set that was pretty diverse in sound, from Black Keys style jump blues, to rockabilly and punk, the set was raw, fast, and gutsy, proving what can be done with only a guitar and a drum kit.

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