Review of Welshly Arms at The Belly Up
I enjoy watching some good live music. The other night, I had the opportunity to do so at The Belly Up, a venue located on 143 S. Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach. The main act of the evening was Welshly Arms, and the two opening acts were Dead Posey and Charming Liars. I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts on the evening, which includes the good and the not-so-good.
The Belly Up
First, there’s the venue, The Belly Up. It’s a nice venue which features reasonably-priced food as well as, of course, alcoholic beverages—though I’m admittedly not the expert on these, given that I rarely drink, and I especially don’t drink if I want to fully immerse myself in the music. I arrived at the venue at around 7:50 PM, conscious of coming a bit early because the doors opened at 8:00. Parking is a bit tight in the Cedros, but there were plenty of open spots in nearby lots, located just a short walk from the venue.
Inside, there’s a fair amount of seating in addition to an open standing area located right in front of center stage. There’s also a VIP seating section which overlooks the stage. When I walked in, I noticed that the baseball game was playing on the television sets situated above the bar—a nice touch which gives patrons something to do while waiting for the show to begin. What I realized a few minutes into the main act was that they switched these television sets to live footage of the band performing. For particularly crowded nights or when you arrive late, I can see this being a boon. You can take a virtual tour of the venue on their website if you wish to learn more about the venue’s layout and amenities.
The staff was friendly and the venue was clean and well-kept. Tickets for general admission were $17 each, and a cursory look at their website (bellyup.com) shows that most of their other shows are within a similar price range. Fair pricing, at least if you ask me. Overall, I like the venue and have nothing bad to say about it. Anyway, when I got in, I grabbed a seat and booted up my smartphone to catch up on the news cycle while waiting for the show, which opened with Dead Posey.
As soon as this Los Angeles-based band got on stage, it was obvious that they were there to rock, and that they meant business. I couldn’t find too much information about the band members beyond their frontwoman, Danyell Souza, which is a shame because this band was my favorite act of the night in retrospect.
With a distorted hard rock edginess coupled with some punkish swagger, Dead Posey shows that you don’t need to be the most technical or theoretically knowledgeable musicians out there to make waves. And this is exactly as it should be. At its core, rock and roll is not about making some lofty intellectual statement. It certainly can be, as bands like King Crimson, Jethro Tull, or Pink Floyd illustrated decades ago, but it really doesn’t need to be; rock and roll is about showing up with a mean attitude and getting people to shake their fists and bang their heads. How else do you think ACDC made a living?
Dead Posey’s guitarist had a nice, distorted tone which fit the band’s punk-inspired sound. Though he sounded to me to be tuned down to drop C#, he didn’t achieve the heaviness of a band like Black Sabbath or Pantera, which is good because that sort of sound wouldn’t fit for a band like Dead Posey anyway. The guitarist had a lot of stage presence and overall contributed a lot towards the show. He did a great job.
Similarly, their drummer was right on and kept their show together. Though he didn’t play the most technically complex grooves out there, what mattered is that the beats were catchy and added to, rather than detracted from, the band’s sound. Another important thing to note was that of the three drummers tonight. He was the only one whom I felt never really overstepped his bounds and drowned out the rest of the band. Perhaps it was also a function of the sound mixing, but all the instruments sounded like they were at an appropriate volume.
I have nothing bad to say about their bassist, but I also will say that his playing did not stand out to me. Traditionally, bassists tend to stay in the backdrop and provide a solid foundation, and he did this well, so this is to be commended.
This section wouldn’t be complete without me talking about their frontwoman, of course. With a more-than-competent band, a sound crossed between punk and hard rock, and a feisty frontwoman clad in all black, the first comparison to come to mind was that of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Indeed, this is perhaps the easiest analogy to make, and it’s the best way to explain the music of Dead Posey to someone who knows nothing about the band. Danyell Souza is perhaps the star of the show to the typical viewer, and it’s easy to understand why. She has a fantastic stage presence, the perfect rock, and roll attitude, and, of course, she’s a very qualified singer.
If there’s any constructive criticism I have for the band, it’s maybe for the guitarist and bassist to take a few more risks and put themselves out there more often. It would’ve been nice to hear some longer, more involved solos or some solid and earthshaking bass grooves. But really, the band did a fine job as is, and I commend them for it. Punk rock isn’t known for virtuosic guitarists and funky basslines anyway. They put on a great show and set my expectations for the subsequent acts rather high; I knew nothing about Charming Liars or Welshly Arms, so my impression was that they would be similar to Dead Posey. For better or for worse, the next two bands subverted my expectations.
While Dead Posey felt more like a throwback to the punk music of the late 70s and early 80s, Charming Liars are most definitely a reflection of trends in modern music—which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon your frame of reference. I’ll come right out and say it: this was my least favorite act of the night, and their music simply didn’t resonate with me. Your mileage may vary, of course.
I think the thing which stuck out most to me about Charming Liars was the degree to which they incorporated electronic beats and synthesizers into their music. While Dead Posey was mostly organic (which kind fits their name), Charming Liars’ music sounded very processed to my ears. In fairness, this is precisely what a lot of people want these days, so how can I fault Charming Liars for giving people what they want? The band describes itself as “Alt pop” on their website, and I’d say that’s a reasonably accurate description of what they play. I heard a distinct U2, mid-80s Genesis, and Police influence, particularly in their guitarist’s, Karnig Manoukian, playing. When I listened to his playing, my guess was that he took notes from The Edge and Andy Summers and added a modern twist, and indeed, the band lists U2, Linkin Park, and The Police as some of their biggest influences. There’s a lot of reverb and twanginess in Manoukian’s playing (which is also likely a function of playing a Telecaster), and some people love that. I personally don’t, as I prefer my guitars overdriven and in-your-face; I’ll take a Mick Mars over a Mike Rutherford any day. No offense to Manoukian, of course, since he’s a fine player at what he does.
Rather than focus on what I didn’t like and dwell on the negative, however, I feel I should mention the one aspect which stuck out to me the most, namely bassist Mike Kruger. He has a great tone which works its way prominently in the mix. It’s relatively overdriven, similarly to the likes of Doug Pinnick on songs like King’s X’s “What I Know About Love” or “Moanjam,” though not quite as overdriven. And similarly to Pinnick, Kruger knows how to groove. He also knows when to step back and let the rest of the band do their thing, which is a skill that all good musicians share. Knowing when to play is important; knowing how to utilize silence is equally important.
To reiterate, Charming Liars bill themselves as a “London Alternative Band” (oh yeah, did I mention they’re from the UK?) and I think that description is accurate. Perhaps some of my disappointment came from me expecting to hear another hard-hitting, straightforward punk rock band and then getting something else. But let me make this clear: I’m not saying they’re a bad band. Rather, they’re simply not my cup of tea. If you’re a fan of U2, modern alternative rock in general, or a combination of both, then you’ll love Charming Liars and I recommend you check them out. I’ll close this section by adding that if you’re drawn in by the music of Charming Liars, then the main act of the night is likely going to get you hooked as well.
Typically, people come to see the main event, and so did I last night. I had relatively high expectations for the Cleveland-based Welshly Arms. Before their show started, I knew nothing about them; all I knew was that they were the headliners and that their name has ties to Wales, similarly to King Arthur and Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Their show was interesting, to say the least.
One thing I realized was that both opening acts were a good teaser for Welshly Arms in their own right. Welshly Arms had a blend of more hard-hitting songs similar to those written by Dead Posey and the more pop or alternative-inspired songs like those written by Charming Liars. Charming Liars’ trait of having a good bassist also foreshadowed what was to come.
Before we go any further, allow me to talk about how great the bassist, Jimmy Weaver, was. He was my favorite bassist of the night as well as my favorite part of Welshly Arms. During nearly every song, my first thought was, “Wow, this bassline is groovy.” Weaver has a very solid and heavy tone, for lack of better descriptors. It’s very reminiscent of the likes of Roger Waters or Geezer Butler, and similarly to Waters, Weaver uses a pick in his playing. His bass also sounded more prominent in the mix than Kruger’s was in Charming Liars’ songs, which was a plus. Most importantly, I felt that Weaver’s biggest strength was that he knows how to tow the line between simplicity and complexity, demonstrating some interesting basslines which never got out of control. Weaver essentially did everything right and I was thus very impressed by his playing. I love seeing a good bass player at work—bass guitar is one of the most understated instruments, and yet it can make such a huge difference.
As for the rest of the band, they are competent musicians. Bri and Jon Bryant are great singers (Bri especially, in my humble opinion) who add a gospel-like chorus to some of the band’s songs. Brett Lindemann clearly has studied keyboards from the school of Deep Purple and the late, great Jon Lord. Mikey Gould is a solid drummer, and Sam Getz is an effective frontman who plays his guitar with what at times sort of sounds like a Hendrixian influence crossed with funk stylings. Take any one of these elements on your own and you can do some neat things and really go places.
But when you mix together so many disparate ideas and elements, something sort of gets lost. I guess Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got away with it somehow, but to my ears, this very eclectic mix of disparate styles and ideas didn’t work all that effectively. I liked the singing. I liked the drumming. I liked the keyboards. I loved the bass playing. But when it all came together… the songs just seemed very forgettable to me. Too many things were trying to grab my attention, and as a result, my mind simply focused on the one thing that stood out most (the bass), rather than try to make sense of the songs as a whole. And after listening to some of their songs again, I’m not convinced that they’re particularly great from a compositional standpoint. There’s good musicianship there, but the songs don’t really mesh together too well, which brings me to another point.
Namely, the Deep Purple comparison. Listen to the opening hook on their song “Indestructible.” Now listen to Deep Purple’s “Maybe I’m a Leo.” Listen to the keyboards on “Sanctuary.” Now listen to just about any Deep Purple song where Jon Lord was playing his signature Hammond Organ. Consider that Welshly Arms aren’t particularly great songwriters. Now consider that Deep Purple had that exact same problem: the band had some of the greatest musicians to play rock music, such as Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover, David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes, and Tommy Bolin to name just a few; yet their songs are more memorable for the dazzling solos or catchy riffs, rather than the songwriting. Take “Highway Star,” “Child in Time,” “Burn,” or “Knocking at Your Back Door” for example.
For whatever reason, Welshly Arms seems to have the same problem that plagued Deep Purple, and unfortunately for them, they’re not as good musicians as the best ones to grace Deep Purple (which, in fairness, almost nobody is). Add to this that Welshly Arms is going for the more alternative rock-fusion sort of thing, and the band ends up being sort of a miss for me. Most of their songs sound very similar to each other, and without the jaw-dropping solos and otherworldly musicianship with which Deep Purple was blessed, they tended to fall somewhat flat for me.
Welshly Arms is clearly a well-established band, if 11 million views on YouTube for their biggest hit, “Legendary,” is any indicator. As of now, they’re a good band to catch if you want some decent feel-good music for a date night. I saw plenty of couples doing just that by enjoying themselves dancing and partaking in alcoholic libations. Personally, I came to listen to music and rock out, and on that front, I wasn’t completely satisfied. Belly Up listed them primarily as a “rock and roll band” with blues and gospel influences, and what I heard was something different. They were not so much traditional rock and roll as they were alternative rock, and here we see that one word makes all the difference. To the band’s credit, they do list themselves as “alternative rock” in their own biography on their website. However, I think it was a combination of their listed genre as “rock and roll” in addition to Dead Posey’s opening act which misguided my expectations. I ended up leaving during the encore since I was getting tired (it was a quarter till midnight) and I had heard enough to formulate an opinion on the band.
Yet, this amalgamation of various musical styles coupled with a modern, post-grunge spin is precisely what attracts people to the alternative rock genre. It’s not my cup of tea, but there’s certainly a market for it, and it’s hard to not recommend Welshly Arms to anyone who likes alternative rock.
To summarize, I really liked Dead Posey, I didn’t care for Charming Liars, and I thought Welshly Arms was just okay. And to clarify, I’m not saying Charming Liars or Welshly Arms are bad bands; they’re simply not my thing. Theirs is a brand of alternative rock which is aimed towards the more typical Gen X-ers and Millennials, rather than the outliers like me who obsessively listen to bands like Judas Priest, Blue Öyster Cult, Thin Lizzy, or Scorpions. Since my tastes gravitate mostly towards music from the 70s and 80s, Dead Posey naturally resonated most with me, being a throwback to late 70s punk music. They put on a great show, and I wouldn’t object to seeing them again. Being born in the 1990s, I’ll never be able to see a young Joan Jett perform in her prime, but Dead Posey is a pretty great spiritual successor.
If you’re interested in The Belly Up, check out their website at BellyUp.com.
If you’re interested in Welshly Arms, their merchandise, or their new album, check out their website at WelshlyArms.com.
If you want to know what Dead Posey’s up to, then their website at DeadPosey.com should have most of what you’ll want to know.
And last but not least, CharmingLiars.com should provide some handy information in case they sound interesting to you.