Photos and words by Colleen Callahan
“Shoot. Well, pants with pockets usually prove useful when I shoot a show,” I thought to myself, begrudgingly changing from yoga pants to “going out pants,” or rather, normal pants. The kind with pockets one usually wears in public, the kind that can easily hold a lens cap and a phone.
As I walked into the Echo and saw a woman in the crowd chillin’ in a silky floor-length bathrobe covered in clouds, I felt right at home with the come-as-you-are, laissez-faire attitude in the air. I knew at least my yoga pants and I would’ve fit in. Then I also remembered I DO have yoga pants with pockets. Oh well, next time.
The vibe only proved stronger once LVL UP took the stage. Looking around the crowd, everyone was participating in one of three tiers: head-nodding, headbanging or air drumming. There’s a reason the Brooklyn-based band has easily found a home on Sub Pop Records with their latest release, Return to Love. Throughout the set I kept doing double-takes as I heard tinges of all my favorite bands within the the ever-changing story that is alternative rock. LVL UP’s melodies proved to be a dreamy, heart-wrenching mix of two-parts Nirvana, The Pixies, Garbage, Sublime and Weezer with one part Coconut Records and Death Cab for Cutie. I’ll even go out on a ledge and say the opening riff of “Spirt Was” has a dash of Coldplay’s “Yellow.” Combine all those sounds though and LVL UP still stands on its own, purely using inspiration as a tool versus a formula to repeat.
One of the most intriguing aspects about LVL UP is that three members among the four-piece trade off lead vocals throughout the set. Mike Caridi, Dave Benton and Nick Corbo all write and cover guitar/bass while Greg Rutkin keeps the rhythm on drums. While the band generally kept their head down throughout the set, they made The Echo feel like their living room. We had simply come over for hang-time and an intimate set. Corbo even remarked that the venue was way better than when they played “downstairs,” or rather, the Echoplex. I smiled knowing an overly PR-prepped pop star would never make such a move and appreciated such off-the-cuff honesty. During a mid-set mishap Corbo was also able to joke through technical difficulties, never missing a beat. Such relaxed realness mixed with downtrodden lyrics from the track “Pain” (“I hope you’re cold / I hope you grow old / I hope you never find love”) transported me to the days of incubated grunge I was never able to witness first-hand.
At the end of the show, the band not only gave the obligatory call to buy merch and mixtapes, but also to donate to Brooklyn non-profit Make the Road. Make the Road “builds the power of Latino and working class communities to achieve dignity and justice through organizing, policy innovation, transformative education and survival services.” The warm-hearted shout-out proved to be just the right chaser to a night full of introspective rock.