Pomplamoose gives the El Rey an amazing show

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Nataly Dawn takes the stage as lead singer for Pomplamoose at the El Rey Theatre, Oct. 10.

I have been to a lot of concerts in my time. My very first was seeing “Weird Al” Yankovic when I was 11. Since then, my passion for seeing live music has known no bounds. I’ve been to seven Coachella festivals, tons of shows throughout L.A. from the Greek, to the Wiltern, and beyond. No one concert that I’ve been to has brought as much energy and fun as Pomplamoose  did when I saw them on Friday, October 10th.

For the unfamiliar, Pomplamoose began very humbly during the rise of YouTube as a home for creators of all kinds. They take their name from pamplamousse, the French word for grapefruit. Their sound is just as kitsch, opting initially for very simple instrumentation and arrangements. Lead singer and bassist Nataly Dawn overlays her own vocals on most tracks to create harmonies. She’ll sometimes branch out to light percussion work with triangles, tambourines, and the like. Her bandmate (partner, boyfriend?) Jack Conte is the true powerhouse when it comes to making the band work. He plays everything from piano, to drums, electric and acoustic guitar, theramin… frankly there’s not much he doesn’t play. He also does the production on each track.

What made them stand out when they first started was a concept they created called VideoSongs, wherein they recorded themselves playing the entirety of one part from the start to the finish of the song. Then, each part was edited together to create a sort of visual collage of the song as it played. That means Conte did all of his parts on video, Dawn did all of her parts, then they synced audio to video (no easy task!) to create a unique piece for each song.

They accomplished all of this in the modest rooms they had available to them at the time. Bedrooms, garages, living rooms, no space was sacred. Their gamble paid off, and they were soon a hit in a burgeoning medium. What sets Pomplamoose apart from the rest was not only their unique style and presentation, but also their determination to stay independent. Not “indie”, as many music labels have created a genre to categorize a certain sound. Truly, Pomplamoose is unsigned and survives completely off of support directly from their fan base.

Now on their sophomore record, Season 2, they’ve decided to do a massive tour of the continental U.S. from West to East and back again. Their show at the El Rey was their penultimate. San Francisco was next and last, it being closest to their home. By that point in a tour, anyone might reasonably expect a band to be tired of stuffing themselves in a van and driving hundreds of miles for hours a day while getting little sleep. If that was the case, Pomplamoose certainly didn’t show it.

From the start their energy was very high and they never faltered. Beginning with one of their most famous covers, Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” opened the night with a bang. Pomplamoose is known for taking songs and making them their own, often mashing up themes or even directly singing lines from other songs. Their cover of Lorde’s “Royals” takes most of its musical cues from 2Pac and even tosses in a line from “Loser” by Beck for good measure. Most famously their cover of “Mr. Sandman” was even used for a car commercial.

Their originals are equally as interesting and engaging as well. “Expiration Date” is often the standout of their personal work, and live was no exception. It’s somber in lyrical tone (“never knew love was a fad/you fooled me bad/wish you were easy to hate”) but has a bouncy chorus that is driven by Dawn’s vocal range. There were many instances where the crowd was singing along, excited to join in on the fun.

Conte and Dawn also got some time interacting directly with the crowd. At one point, Conte gave complex instructions to the crowd about making an open circle on the floor for him to dance in. As he did, he added more and more people into the dance floor he created until the entire standing room space in the middle of the El Rey was nothing but people moving to the music along with him. Later, near the end, both he and Dawn crowd surfed and were amazed that it had worked as well as it did. Their fans adore them, and were willing to be as silly and open to suggestion as the band had hoped. Such things are rare in L.A. in my experience, where too often I see people who look bored at a show in an attempt to act too cool to be there.

Frankly, I feel like it was a crime for the show to have ended. I easily rank Pomplamoose live in my top 3 concerts of my life to this point. They were happy, constantly moving, funny, willing to try new things and strange arrangements, and never once forgot to add the crowd in on the fun. Whenever I’m asked for a suggestion for music to listen to, I always recommend Pomplamoose. Now I’m happy to say I can suggest their live show with equal vigor.