Virginia is for Local Music Lovers

Alex Vans and The Hideaway at The Camel

alexvans

Alex Vans and the Hideway-The Camel

 Alex Vans: Vocals, guitar

Scott Inkley: vocals, guitar

Ian Burke/Dave Shelton: bass

Jarron Mossman: drums

Catching a show about town is always a tossup. Sometimes it kicks ass, at times it’s yawn-inducing, and a lot of times it’s just downright ugly. One thing is for sure, in Richmond there’s never a shortage of local bands to check out at almost any venue on any given night of the week. Now I’m a frequent dweller at The Camel, a restaurant and bar on West Broad Street known for putting on some raging shows and bringing to light local bands and musicians…for those who have been living under a rock. Its dark, candles on the table, separate room for the jammin’ and most importantly, not too hipstery.

This past Thursday I had the pleasure of checking out two awesome bands there, power-pop outfit Alex Vans and the Hideway and Richmond-based disco punk group Toxic Moxie. Now, both were especially awesome and brought something new, unique, and refreshing to the scene, but I decided to dig deeper on the former band, although based in DC/NYC.

Touring mostly around the region since January to promote their album DJ Booth, Alex and the Hideaway brought the fire from the moment they stepped on stage until the last chord was struck. Vans’ verve on stage kept the crowd amped throughout their set which is refreshing from today’s bigger bands that tend to just deflate after one or two songs and expect you to still be entertained. Backed by a sharp bassist, pulsating guitarist, and aggressive drummer that kept a solid groove, they were definitely the total package.

The bar was scattered with a sea of regulars, old jam-heads, and possibly some of the band’s DC following judging by their excitement and although scarce at first, by the third or fourth song, the floor was teeming with them.

I don’t think I could box Alex Vans and the Hideaway into one specific category, which I love. It’s so rare these days to find a group that can fuse a little bit of every style and genre into their music and actually perform well. At times they sounded similar to The Strokes, then at times they had the upbeat poppy sound of The Kooks and then there were hints of jam-band dabbled throughout.

Vans plays with the confidence of a veteran musician, pouring over the microphone as he led into a very cool song called Black or White which reminded me of early Bob Dylan.

The third song Vans’ voice was very strong and passionate. It had a harder, edgier sound with a slight reggae feel.  He amped up the dance moves on this one with some quick jumps and jerky kicks which fell in rhythm with the song which had the crowd on their feet dancing to the smooth guitar riffs.

“The Weekend” was very heavy and forceful. The intro was psychedelic-esque reminiscent of a Zepplin track. It then took on a life of its own sending out one basic message: Fuck it, it’s the weekend, let’s forget our problems and get weird.” Tension-building, edge-of-your-seat kind of song up to the powerful guitar-laden chorus.

“Wait,” one of my favorites of the night, was a poppy, “pouring your heart out” ballad about not being able to be with the one you love and trying to navigate through it. Kind of made me think of a song you’d hear playing in the background of a John Hughes film. Although a little rhymey, still relatable and near the end Vans stepped into the audience to engage the crowd and had them singing the catchy hook.

The final song, “Hideaway” was a heavy bass jam. It was hypnotic, and Vans’ voice lingered over each word. This was pure rock and roll. A few-minute long guitar solo that let’s be honest melted some faces. Made me want to go home and crank my Hendrix. The band wrapped with an extended impromptu jam sesh which had the crowd dancing like acid-tranced fools at a festival.

Vans started writing and singing in 2009. And the formation of Alex Vans and the Hideaway isn’t your typical high school pals getting together in their mother’s garage to merge their talents.

“I used to do cruise ship contracts; I’d go out and play on ships for Carnival and I met most of my guys there,” said Vans, 27. They were in other bands and when we came back to the states we kept in touch.”

The band put out DJ Booth, a 10-track album in January which Vans said was in the works for the last year.

“The new record is more of a power-pop record I tried to tighten up the arrangements a little more,” he said. This one is what I actually sound like as a songwriter I’m getting in touch with my personality.”

Prior to DJ Booth, Vans put out a 6-track solo acoustic EP, Old Souls and Other Cellar Songs in 2010.

“The first EP was mostly rootsy; I was singing differently I was smoking a lot of cigarettes then so my voice is a lot more gravelily,” Vans said. “I was replicating what I thought would be popular.”

Vans said his music has been influenced mostly by Beck, Bob Dylan, Dave Grohl and DC indie artist Joe Pug.

“I like the way he {Beck} adds layers to his productions in a tasteful way,” he said. “My favorite record is Sea Change (2003) there are a lot of interesting sounds, but it still very open so you can hear everything in its own space.”

The band has finished up a handful of new songs, one of which I had the pleasure of hearing for the first time at the show, which will go on an EP that they plan to start on this summer.

As for performing in RVA, Vans, who first started playing The Camel as a solo act, said he plans to come back to play every two to three months.