Standing in a line that easily topped 50 people outside the Barn on Wednesday, I did a quick YouTube search of We Are Scientists on my phone. Though they had the alternative, post-punk sound that is endemic of most indie bands today, I liked what I heard. I recognized some of their songs from college radio, and I was sure they had been suggested on my Pandora once before. Satisfied, I came back into reality and continued to wait, looking up at the dense clouds, wondering if I would have to make my walk home back in the rain.
Even though the show didn’t start for another 45 minutes, the nebulous cloud of people who pressed against the stage was already dense, with the jovial attendees excitedly watching as the roadie set up the equipment, craning their necks to see if they saw a semi-famous face around the curtains on the left side of the stage. The time passed quickly, and I was soon surrounded on all sides as the clock neared 8:30 p.m. With hearty whoops from the crowd, the five-man opening band took the stage.
Ghosts in Pocket opened the show with a bang. They played with energetic fervor, and the drummer was already sweating profusely midway through their first song. They had a classic rock sound with a punk edge, and their energy worked up the crowd and drew more people into the fray in front of the stage. As an opening band, they were stellar, as they were able to engage and excite the crowd while not overpowering everyone before the main act. After every song the members would give one another a confident look during the smattering of applause.
Their music became more focused and experimental as they played on, incorporating acoustic guitar, keyboards and a trumpet into their alt-rock sound. The crowd was undoubtedly impressed, and someone jokingly yelled, “Hey! You guys are alright!” as they neared the end of their 45-minute set. Before they finished, they thanked the attendees and promised the eminent arrival of We Are Scientists. You could tell from the sheer volume of cheers from the crowd that we were ready.
As We Are Scientists took the stage, the crowd inside swelled considerably, with most of the people eating and waiting outside streaming in. They opened their set and engaged in playful banter with each other and the crowd when they had finished their first song. It was hard to understand what they were saying at times because the audience was in a full roar between each song, matching the band’s volume. For their second song, they launched into their first single “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” from their album “With Love and Squalor.” The crowd and band went wild, with guitarist Keith Murray running around the stage like a madman. Most of the songs they played were from their older albums, but the crowd reacted the most favorably to the songs off “With Love and Squalor.”
Things changed pace around 10 p.m. when the band started playing a bluesy, psychedelic rendition of “Textbook.” While the bassist and drummer carried the beat, Murray set his guitar down and began walking around the stage, standing on top of the bass drum, hanging off the support beams and walking into the crowd, much to the enjoyment of the people at the front of the stage. The crowd surged forward, thronging him on all sides as the sounds of the guitar feedback and the squeals of some very excited girls in the crowd created a pressing, surrounding din.
When the song was over, Murray rejoined his bandmates and they played two more songs, leaving the stage rather abruptly. It was all for dramatic effect, as they returned to the stage after only a few moments of the crowd chanting “Encore!” at a full yawp. Murray’s banter became much more personal, and he hinted that the band would probably return to the Inland Empire to play another show in the near future. They launched into a rendition of “Great Escape,” another song from “With Love and Squalor,” and exited the stage for good as the lights came back on in the Barn.
It sometimes feels as if most of the bands we host at the Barn are either undiscovered local groups or has-beens who are well past their prime. While I have gotten that vibe several times at shows during my years at UCR, We Are Scientists were on point throughout their whole set. Everyone in the audience seemed to have an amazing time, and the merch table was thronged as I made my walk home, ears still ringing.