Long Beach is not an attractive city. Downtown, where a shopping mall is under construction, is filled with thick concrete barriers and overhanging chain-link fences. It feels like a demilitarized zone. The city houses the port of San Pedro, and as a result the air seems violently polluted, even for someone who’s been living in LA.
Fingerprints Records is located south of downtown, in a section of town that feels more like a village. Small restaurants and souvenir shops line 2nd Street, and the residential streets branching off are filled with densely packed cottages. Fingerprints is home to an endless selection of used CDs, and browsing through the aisles prior to the in-store performance brought back memories of bands like Dramarama, Catherine Wheel, and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. In the past, the store has hosted burgeoning acts like Tegan & Sara, Damien Jurado, Joseph Arthur, and Matt Costa.
The Paris-based duo Herman Dune took the stage first. Although they got on my nerves during the soundcheck by excessively repeating nonsense syllables, I softened up when they started playing. Their anti-folk music is reminiscent of musical comedy duos such as Flight of the Conchords, but it’s hard to decide whether it’s supposed to be funny, or wry, or earnest in a slightly language-challenged way. Guitarist David-Ivar relied a few times on the sort of guitar rolls you’d hear in some of Nico’s songs, and overall Herman Dune were a thoroughly pleasant surprise.
Even dressed down in a gray hooded sweatshirt and jeans, Trespassers William lead singer Anna-Lynne Williams helps to make the city of Long Beach a lot more attractive. Her pale loveliness and searching voice brings to mind words like “winsome” and “tresses.” She looks the way that you might expect Emily Dickinson to look, if she were pretty and could play guitar and happened to sing in a band. In high school, Anna-Lynne was the girl who sang a cover of “Fade Into You” at the talent show and of course you had a huge crush on her. She was polite enough, to you and everyone else, but pretty much avoided interacting with any of the social misfits in your hometown, and you imagined that she spent most of her time pining away for some exotic long-distance boyfriend in Norway or Argentina.
Anna-Lynne stayed seated through the performance, with her guitar perched horizontally in her lap and her fingers playing the strings from above. At times it felt more like she was playing a harp. The Fingerprints stage was a little bit crowded, leaving scant elbow room for the four members (Anna-Lynne, Matt Brown, Ross Simonini, and Nathan Skolrud), but it didn’t seem to affect their ability to fill the store’s space with lush, drifting songs about separation, sadness, and longing.
“Lie in the Sound” is the kind of song that’s so irresistibly beautiful it’s easy to imagine it being exploited for a romantic dÃ©tente scene in a TV melodrama like Dawson’s Creek or Gossip Girl. I feel like I could listen to Anna-Lynne’s murmuring voice on “And We Lean In” for hours on end. Some of the sound effects were a bit overdone, such as the bubbling noises on “Catch Not Break,” but it’s easy to overlook such things when you’re presented with such captivating music.
There’s only one aspect of Trespassers William’s performance I can genuinely criticize. One of the cardinal sins a band can commit, in my opinion, is to project an old movie onto the stage backdrop during their performance. I’m not averse to the use of visual images (some bands, like the Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players, rely upon them heavily, and I’ve seen the Good Listeners brilliantly use a blue-tinted video of themselves performing the same song, slightly out of phase from the live performance), but every single time I’ve seen an actual film such as Deathrace 2000 or An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge projected behind a band, I find it immensely distracting. The relatively bright lighting in Fingerprints helped deemphasize the flickering images behind the band, making it into an exception to the rule rather than just another exercise in frustration, but film projection is a technique that should be used very carefully or not at all.
It was a short performance, featuring only seven songs. And while a record store lacks some of the atmosphere of a nightclub, the absence of a bar and alcohol inhibits the relentless conversations that would completely ruin a live performance of such mesmerizing, melancholy music. The audience at Fingerprints was reverent throughout Trespassers William’s performance, and I’m looking forward to seeing the band play again. In fact, as I’m writing this I’m sort of wishing I had ditched the Say Hi concert last night to see Trespassers William play again at Tangier. They’re that good.