New York’s own stepsister band (they’ve toured with the Killers, Franz Ferdinand, the Thrills, and Stellastarr*), Ambulance LTD took the Bowery stage March 7 with their instrumental “Yoga Means Union,” coaxing layers of chords out of simple repetition, ambling into a seductive lull. Each breath of twang built up like a soft hovering kiss threatening to land. And in that airy, dreamy state of lingering promise, the band remained frozen, purging riffs we’ve already heard and skirting the edge of a sound that’s their own. Could be a Beatles song, could be a hipster jam band, but what Ambulance LTD are remains as foggy as the phantasmagoric, meandering melodies they deliver.
After the first number, the power on one side of the stage blew out. Backed by staccato strumming, lead bassist Matt Dublin explained, “All the rock ‘n’ roll just sucked the electricity out of the room.” With the plugs back in the right places, the band launched into “Primitive,” an anthem for emotional distance. Lead singer Marcus Congleton droned, “Relax, don’t think about the way I treat you,” in a controlled and deliberate Lou Reed drawl, taking courtship to a risk-free netherworld, a place where timing and willingness are factored in before the crush. Such insecurity is emblematic: The band, in the same stunted emotional boat, isn’t weathered enough to get granular and isn’t slick enough to put on a polished show. They do deliver sweet, comforting songs that wrap around tight like a hug, but only if the audience is willing to hug back. At their worst, Ambulance LTD are like one of those dorm room psychedelic posters with unending neon staircases morphing into beams lifted from swirly heavens. The band’s music—like the poster art—is limited by scope and scale but still fascinating when steeped in stony moments.
Louisville’s VHS or BETA, who are co-headlining the tour, closed out the evening with their audio-mullet arena rock circa 1982. These guys have practically mimeographed early Cure, but they do it in homage and out of love. In the end, they rescued an otherwise pageantry-free evening with clap-alongs, strobe lights, harder-faster-flashier guitars, and a rave-inducing set that outdistanced their deliberately derivative nature.