Music » This Little Underground

Run River North breaks the Asian-band sterotype; Tancred keeps the ’90s revival train a-rollin’



Warning: This is about to get a little ethnic and meta. I didn't walk in with that intention but the forces just aligned. Here goes.

Run River North (March 24, the Social) is a six-member L.A. band constituted entirely of Korean-Americans. The Asian storyline is inevitable. And then there's me, a card-carrying Asian-American, who's now filtering it. Add everything up and it all feels pretty loaded. But I'm gonna run with it because us Asians have relatively little occasion to do so, and this band is an unusual situation.

Asians aren't the biggest minority group in America and are, by now, assimilated well enough to not shock the optics any more. But there's something particularly conspicuous about Run River North. To see an all-Asian group not based in Asia that's not a self-parodic marketing gimmick (thanks, Far East Movement) is glaring in its own way. They could easily pass for one with their eugenic looks – I saw at least four members onstage that my girlfriend would leave me for – but they're an earnest band, and a pretty good and accomplished one at that.

Instead of the usual genres in which Asians have historically distinguished themselves, Run River North deals in youthful, elegant indie pop with folk and chamber leanings that's in line with acts like Of Monsters and Men, Radical Face and the Lumineers. Live, they're much more rock, which suits me even better. It's a sound and aesthetic that's got immense commercial appeal in a way that's neither cheap nor trips the gag reflex. Everything they do is with exceptional verve and precision, and they delivered a substantial and enjoyable show. And even if their middle-left sensibility is too vanilla for you, you've gotta give the drummer credit for the Death From Above shirt he wore onstage here.

As perhaps little as being in the middle represents artistically, it means something considerable socially. Although the band itself is an ethnic phenomenon, their sizable following isn't. From what I could see at this show, I was one of only a few Asians in attendance. What all this equals is something that shatters a good deal of the stereotypes I grew up with.


Sick of the '90s yet? That decade's style is omnipresent these days. I heard JNCO jeans are even making a little comeback or some shit like that. Good lord.

But, though I may be a little sick of typing that number from all these acts I've been seeing of late, I'm not over hearing those nostalgic sounds quite yet. Regarding indie rock specifically, a field currently saturated with revivalism, it so happens that a lot of it is good with bands like Bully, Waxahatchee, Swearin' and Potty Mouth on the scene.

Well, the steady rise of Tancred, the brainchild of singer-guitarist Jess Abbott, to join these new-school leaders of the old school is just about to make a big, certified leap with the upcoming April 1 release of their muscular, realized new album (Out of the Garden). Anyone who picked it up at the merch table at their recent Orlando debut (March 21, the Social) knows what I'm talking about. In addition to being their first issued on the cred-packed Polyvinyl label, the record also boasts production from Anna Waronker (That Dog) and Steven McDonald (Redd Kross/Off!).

At the show, Tancred was a little out of step with the rest of the lineup, which was heavy on the feels with emo-leaning bands like Foxing and O'Brother. But in a tight, beefy 30 minutes on stage, Abbott's trio proved their worth as probably the most notable upstart on the bill, even if they were third on the marquee. Exactly like the new album, Tancred's live pulse is a cranked drive that delivers a well-tuned combo of powerful, chewy guitars and sweetly skewed melody. And for fans of the final wave of real alternative rock – before that term lost all meaning (and legitimacy) – Tancred is manna.

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