Sometimes, the most powerful and emotionally-moving music has no words at all. Indie Scottish rockers We Were Promised Jetpacks return to Los Angeles for the first time in years, presenting classic hits and new tracks from their recent record only released last month, The More I Sleep The Less I Dream. Following in the footsteps of their fellow Scottsmen the Twilight Sad, Jetpacks let the melodies, guitar riffs, and pounding drumlines tell their story in lieu of lyrics. And that suited the excitable crowd at the El Rey just fine.
Before the headliners had their curtain call, lo-fi indie rocker Jenn Champion warmed up the crowd with tunes quite decidedly unlike We Were Promised Jetpacks, but still worthy of praise. With only a bassist and keyboardist at her side, Jenn Champion offered her own array of bedroom pop, plucky electronic beats, and even some coordinated dance moves. She hid beneath a baseball cap that shadowed her face, but a combination of fancy footwork and the occasional emotional lyric cut the crowd deep. The lack of drums or heavy production only helped to bring her soft voice and vulnerable lyrics to the forefront – and made the night feel that much more intimate in the small space of the theatre.
By the time We Were Promised Jetpacks took the stage, it felt like every inch of the El Rey was tightly packed with fans. Raising smoke flooded the open stage and the bands’ silhouettes were the only images visible for the entirety of their opening song, “Impossible.” The track, which also opens their newest record, features hard, fast, and heavy bass and drums that take no time getting down and dirty; it becomes so easy to get lost in the rhythm of it before lead singer Adam Thompson digs deep with lines like, “I’m letting go of anger / To find what truly matters / And there’s no rhyme or reason / Nothing explains this feeling.”
Three songs in, the crowd transformed upon hearing the opening notes of “Keeping Warm,” an eight-minute-plus slow burning hit from the band’s 2009 debut These Four Walls. Sean Smith’s bass danced in perfect unison with Darren Lackie’s unbelievably triumphant drumming style as Michael Palmer’s rhythm guitar ever so slowly reached a tremendous apex. Everyone was in top form, and it made sense that the band’s first record brought them so much success.
Much like the dance beats of LCD Soundsystem or the elaborate orchestrations of Explosions in the Sky, it became impossibly easy to become lost in the sound of We Were Promised Jetpacks – but the good kind of lost. With so few lyrics and such long solos, Thompson’s words, “The chances of being born are so slim / So keep warm, so keep warm” end up bearing so much emotional weight for everyone in the room.
Despite the constraints of the El Rey, dozens of fans found no qualms moshing their way through the emotions of every song. From the darkness of the stage, Thompson even asked once or twice that the audience not push – though it was quite clear they could not be contained. With eyes closed, sweat dripping, and fists clenched, bodies fell into the music and the band bore on.
With so much of the We Were Promised Jetpacks experience revolving around the time-stopping, endless length of their songs, it’s notable to mention that the band does everything they possibly can to keep the music at the forefront. I can count on one hand the number of sentences spoken by Thompson all evening, and can name even fewer songs in which the whole band was visible under the stage lights. Yet, this did nothing but work in the band’s favor; every song felt like the gut-punching turnpoint in the setlist and every fan remained enraptured from one moment to the next.
We Were Promised Jetpacks aren’t production-heavy showmen with the gift of the gab, but they have the confidence and artistic strength to understand that, sometimes, less is more. In saying very little, they allowed a decade’s worth of records to provide the perfect emotional release in the darkness of a dingy Los Angeles venue. If you dare take a journey through their music, fingers crossed you let yourself get a little bit lost.