Imagine the psych surfer rock of the Oh Sees merged with the intellectual East Coast id, and you pretty much have Vundabar. A quirky band that exploded out of the Boston scene, Vundabar have carved their home among the rising eastern U.S. indie bands through house parties and a signature playful, upbeat take on life’s sardonic humor. In Los Angeles, they transformed the Regent into what felt like a liberated Massachusetts house party full of your favorite friends. Their genuine, no smoke-and-mirrors set allowed them to engage the audience as if they were old friends, their whole set transforming rock-and-roll into something warm and friendly—three friends simply doing what they loved. Unlike their punkier Boston music scene counterparts, Vundabar have a specific sound that remains true and unchanged despite expanding out into tours that exist in the greater continental stew of the indie rock scene. It’s the fun, jangly, bright sound of college kids, but with heavy lyrical content filtered through a lightweight lense; it’s a sound that has always been unique, mercurial, and has refused to be categorized. But that’s their whole bag: being authentically themselves, in whatever form, and not conforming to any pretense or judgements of how music should look or sound lik. Art should be all about freedom of expression, not having to fit into a certain box, and Vundabar brings that philosophy to life.
The Boston trio came on stage not looking like your typical rock band. There’s no leather jackets or pretentiousness, just polo shirts and a misplaced Red Sox jersey backstage. Their charm and stage antics lie in that approachability, as if they were your peers at some vaguely preppy Boston college where kids meet on Tumblr. or go to house parties and spill beer on the carpet. The lack of walls and feeling of familiarity they regard their fans with allows the audience to be genuinely themselves and simply have fun. There’s no genre or style they have to fit into, and it’s this release that keeps their audience loyal and showing up to their shows.
Brandon Hagen came on stage, dressed down in a blue polo shirt and ready to pop off with some fun guitar riffs. Their inclusion of catchy pop choruses backed by heavier instrumentals and fuzzy, surf-psych vocals are the backbone of their sound. Their newest record, SMELL SMOKE, keeps the jovial recklessness the band is known for, but tackles the darker parts of life we all deal with. The band flip and filter Hagen’s weight of responsibility in the lyrics with buoyant sounds heavy enough for catharsis, but soft enough to groove to. They were unrefined in their movements, goofing off and checking in with each other; that unabashed embracing of each other and the music is what going to a Vundabar show is all about. The crowd became interactive, dancing in their groups and tossing a baseball cap onstage. Hagen playfully picked it up, turning back to share a laugh with Drew McDonald on drums. Once he had his bandmate’s blessing, Hagen launched into the next song with a jump and let that fun, house party vibe take control, cycling through throws of energy and playfulness to serious tensions, waiting to be released via smashed cymbals or wailing guitar notes.
Amongst the smell of downtown L.A. weed and the sticky, beer-stained floor, Vundabar encouraged the audience to dance and have fun, despite lyrical jabs at capitalistic corruption; it’s only after you’ve shimmied and tossed your head to DIY-thrashing noise that you hear the messages in the music. In true east coast existential acceptance, Vundabar toy with the cataclysmic yet therapeutic acknowledgment that everything is, indeed, fucked, so we might as well have fun with it. The band spent the set building songs up until the energy was palpable, resulting in endearing, contained mosh pits. It’s good old indie rock fun, and the Regent turned into a house party in Boston. It’s a night out where you’ve spilt beer with your buddies and need a soundtrack to remember these mindless fleeting nights of deep conversations in somebody’s basement, all while dreading classes on Monday. For one night I was in the hub of Boston’s underground where everyone had the same bright optimism of a college student, yet feared the jaded reality waiting just after graduation. Despite not having a label, I wouldn’t worry about the band’s bubble bursting—as long as Vundabar stays true to themselves and celebrates their unique sound, the audience will reciprocate.