Live Review: Rogue Wave with Floating Action at the Rialto Theater, Tucson, AZ – 15th June 2016

By on Monday, 20th June 2016 at 2:00 pm

Last Wednesday night a pair of veteran American bands, California’s Rogue Wave and North Carolina-based Floating Action, graced the stage at downtown Tucson’s Rialto Theater. I’ve been to the Rialto several times now, but I’ve never seen it set up in the half-seated, half-standing arrangement that greeted me on this night. The rows of seats in the back of the auditorium were convenient for fans who didn’t want to stand near the stage, but they also made the theater a bit cosier for these smaller bands whose devoted fans didn’t quite fill the Rialto’s 1,400-person capacity.


Asheville, North Carolina’s Floating Action are normally a quartet, but they were represented in Tucson by only two of their usual number, singer and frontman Seth Kauffman and guitarist Drew Heller. The band self-released a new double album titled ‘Hold Your Fire’ earlier this year, and ahead of playing one of the new songs, Kauffman won over the local crowd by relating that the album’s vinyl was distributed by Tucson-based specialty label People In a Position to Know. ‘Hold Your Fire’ comprises a rather amazing 21 tracks, including ‘Don’t You Wanna Be Ready?’, ‘Split the Bill’ and title track ‘Hold Your Fire’, all of which appeared on Floating Action’s set list at the Rialto on the night. Punters in the crowd were audibly disappointed when Kauffman announced the final song of their engaging opening set, with someone pleading aloud for “two more!”. In the end we only got one, another new track called ‘Real Enough’, but Kauffman and Heller had already sealed a positive impression of Floating Action.


As it turned out, Floating Action probably could have played another set in the time we waited for headline act Rogue Wave to take the stage. The Rialto was quiet for more than half an hour between sets, before the stage crew even came back to make their final arrangements. I’m not sure what the delay might have been, but the five members of Rogue Wave were met with enthusiastic applause when they finally did appear, easing into their set with the aptly-titled track ‘Take It Slow’.


In a stroke of bad luck for Rogue Wave, it became apparent very quickly that one of the downstage lights hadn’t been adjusted properly during the lengthy intermission. The spotlight that had been centered on Floating Action’s Kauffman during his seated opening set was left to shine directly on Rogue Wave frontman Zach Schwartz’s crotch throughout the headline set, which made taking photos tricky, but more importantly distracted from his ability to engage the audience. Schwartz’s face was cloaked in shadow whenever he was singing or speaking into his microphone, and when he stepped back from the mic, his back was often turned so that he could interact with his bandmates.

Lighting issues aside, the band’s smooth, spontaneous interaction was one of the outstanding positive aspects of their performance. Despite the near constant flux of Rogue Wave’s lineup over their 14-year history and a lengthy recent absence from touring, this particular iteration of the group appeared tight and well-rehearsed, and familiar enough with each other to be relaxed and confident. Schwartz’s between-songs banter was minimal, and the band’s set list was jam-packed with catchy songs from their new album ‘Delusions of Grand Fur’.

The set started very promisingly with four tracks from the new LP, but things became a bit murky for Rogue Wave when they delved into their older tunes in the middle of the set. Schwartz’s singing voice is light and pleasant, but unfortunately for the band’s live sound, it doesn’t quite cut through the heavily-textured instrumental arrangements enough to make a strong impact. For those in the crowd who already knew the songs (and it must be said that there were quite a large number of familiar fans), this wasn’t an issue, but those of us new to Rogue Wave found no readily accessible lyrical hook to anchor us in the band’s swirling sea of haphazard psych rock guitar riffs. In that disorienting context, new album track ‘California Bride’ shone like a beacon of light near the end of the set proper.


To the delight of the longtime fans in the crowd, Rogue Wave closed their set with rousing performances of two popular tracks, ‘Lake Michigan’ and ‘Harmonium’. Both songs appear on the band’s 2007 album ‘Asleep at Heaven’s Gate’, but ‘Lake Michigan’ was featured more recently on the soundtrack for the film remake of ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’. The band took a brief pause after ‘Harmonium’ before treating their followers to an energetic three-track encore, ultimately finishing the night with an extended version of ‘California’.

Floating Action will play a handful of live dates in North Carolina this summer, including the All Go West Music Festival on the 25th of June and Asheville’s RiverLink in August. Rogue Wave will play the final shows of their current West Coast tour with Seattle-based band Hibou, wrapping up in Portland, Oregon on Saturday the 25th of June. They are scheduled to appear at the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in their native Northern California on the 6th of August and will open for the New Pornographers in Sacramento on the 20th of August. Rogue Wave’s new album ‘Delusions of Grand Fur’ is out now via Easy Sound Recording Company.

After the cut: Floating Action and Rogue Wave set lists

Floating Action set list
Fate of the World
Don’t You Wanna Be Ready?
So Vapor
No Surprise There
Split the Bill
Hold Your Fire
Real Enough

Rogue Wave set list
Take It Slow
Look At Me
Endless Supply
Salesman At the Day of the Parade
Nourishment Nation
California Bride
What Is Left to Solve
Memento Mori
Lake Michigan
Publish My Love
Like I Needed

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