Amherst Aisle Rock the House
The House of Blues is always somehow out of place in a Downtown Disney so full of family vacation photos and tourism. Just barely distinguishing itself from the chaotic noise from the hoards of Disneyland-goers looking to get a break from the theme park, the House of Blues stands as a serious music venue in a place seemingly built as overflow for the vacation goliath next door.
Thankfully separate from the touristic babel outside, Amherst Aisle’s set proved to be just as cheerful and uplifting as any theme park wishes it could have been, but added a heavy maturity appropriate for the House of Blues mentality.
The fourth of five bands that played last Saturday night, this Irvine-based four-piece outfit takes their name from the street on which the Ambrose apartments are located, right across from the University Center. Three of the guys in Amherst Aisle are UC Irvine alums; you might recognize their bassist, Kevin Leonard, if you ever go to the pub; he’s one of the bartenders.
Last Saturday was more than just a venture to the House of Blues for the guys of Amherst Aisle. This past Saturday also marked the release of their first full-length album, “Man Among Gods,” a show that they couldn’t have imagined upon their formation in apartment in Ambrose three years ago. Back then, they all lived together with the exception of guitarist Michael Klein, who went to CSU Fullerton but frequented the apartment enough to be considered an honorary roommate.
“We’re doing our CD release party at the House of Blues,” lead singer and keyboard player Ben Kashuk said. “If I told myself we were going to do that when we first started up, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Though their set was somewhat of a juxtaposition in the show — the band that played before them, As You Were, delighted a fist-pumping mob with a metal cover of Village People standard “YMCA” — Amherst Aisle brought their own spin to the stage. Mixing heavy Muse influences with energetic rushes and transitioning into distorted bass-driven breakdowns, Amherst Aisle has a pop-punk edge mixed with Matt Bellamy’s style of meandering piano riffs. The result, combined with a classical solo style almost reminiscent of The Strokes’ Nick Valensi and synth that tips a slight nod to M83’s dreamy backdrops, is anything but average.
Their set for the House of Blues consisted mostly of songs off their new album, starting with the band’s “Intro.” Here, as with some of the other songs, Leonard manned a second keyboard dedicated to adding synth strings to their songs. Launching straight into “Marionette of Laws,” the band quickly found their dynamic sprint with a heaviness from dense drumbeats elevated by Kashuk’s falsetto.
Amherst Aisle’s sound lent itself perfectly to a cover of Coldplay’s “Paradise,” a crowd pleaser that had the audience (different than the As You Were’s fist-pumping mob, and much more tolerable) singing along with the song’s refrain.
A choir also joined the band on a few of their songs, including set highlight “Coalescence,” during which the band seemed to honor the name of the song by truly seeming united. Guest singer Jennifer Smith came out for “Friend or Foe,” a duet that added country-folk to the band’s repertoire of sound. Though the song didn’t make perfect sense with the rest of their set, the band didn’t miss a step and neither did the audience.
What made Amherst Aisle’s set great, in my opinion, is that they all seemed like they were having a good time on stage. Too often, bands set up, play a show and break down without any interaction with the audience, only vaguely acknowledging that they exist. Whether it was Klein’s banter between songs or the way that they were each mounting the edge of the stage, they all seemed genuinely happy to be playing this show. And they have the right to be as cheerful as they were; to go from their first show at UCI’s Phoenix Grill to a CD release at the House of Blues is an accomplishment many college bands only dream about.
“A while back, Michael said that if he got to play at the House of Blues he’d consider himself a successful musician,” Leonard said. “We’ve hit that point, but we all want more. We all want bigger, better.”
“This is our drug,” Kashuk added, grinning. “This is it.”