As I walked into the Irenic ready to absorb the indie rock stylings of Hot Flash Heat Wave and Summer Salt, I was initially anxious, having just fought rush hour traffic and unintentionally missing openers The Symposium in the process. However, I was swiftly comforted by the familiar sight of this converted church venue’s welcoming interior, illuminated in cool blue light and a palpable sense of anticipation.
Having previously seen indie-rock royalty such as The Drums and Beach Fossils in this hallowed space, I had high hopes for the evening’s show, and Hot Flash Heat Wave and Summer Salt quickly delivered on all fronts. Both of these young bands rank among the most coveted young acts in the rock scene, providing a summery, dynamic mix of elements that is uniquely their own, touching on something fresh and intangible within identifiable pop and rock song structures. As I learned throughout the night, this secret ingredient which both bands possess is not just the delivery of a certain musical aesthetic, but rather the earnestness with which their songs are written and embodied.
Fresh off of their first Outside Lands appearance, Hot Flash Heat Wave soothed the crowd with some woozy, psychedelic tunes from their sophomore album Soaked, saying little between songs but providing a polished, glassy live sound that has been honed over years of playing shows. Their casual yet performative onstage gestures made for an inviting visual compliment to the clean, crisp sound coming from the speakers, with the whole crowd swaying to their pulsing basslines and anthemic harmonies.
Their tightly arranged songs (with the ebullient combo of “So Many People” and “Bathroom Song” among the highlights of the night) played out largely like a carefully constructed pop diorama, almost exceedingly faithful to their polished studio sound. When the band began to lean into the music and indulge their talent for improvisation, however, Hot Flash showcased a fresh approach to their material, conjuring some jazz and R&B-influenced playing, with added elements of psych-rock that could predict the sound of things to come for the San Francisco outfit.
Champions of the light, carefree, reverb-drenched sound of quintessential beach rock and pop, Summer Salt put a welcome twist on the lo-fi aesthetic that dominates indie culture and draws in listeners hoping for a willful escape. From what I knew of their catalog, I knew they would follow through with tight, catchy songs that carried the listener to a place of adoration and sheer joy. What I couldn’t have predicted, however, was that this unassuming Texas band boasts true headliner chops and would showcase one of the strongest and most complete vocal performers I’ve seen to date, with subtly amazing songs that they don’t just play through, but command – attracting a loyal following that shouted back every lyric as if it were their dying breath.
Intensity built quickly as the house music died and the LED palm trees on the back of the stage began to pulsate with light. A hush washed over the restless crowd as singer/guitarist Matt Terry walked onstage, armed with just a guitar against the world, leading us to leave our worries behind with a stirring solo rendition of “So Polite,” joined by the band halfway through only for them to make a quick transition into “Revvin’ My CJ7,” a surefire fan favorite that got everyone loosened up. A relative lack of musical fireworks was made up for tenfold by Terry’s engaging vocal performances and the nascent joy of the crowd.
With climbing vocal melodies, sticky guitar parts, and an overall air of carefree excitement, Summer Salt drew all the pure energy they could possibly glean from the room, leaving absolutely nothing to be desired with the end of their joint tour and the end of summer looming. Closing my eyes to the band’s seamless grooves and poignant, playful lyrics, I felt without worry. In a flash, Summer Salt did nothing less than cure my worries and transport the whole room, including myself, to the point of punch-drunk adoration and escapist joy. Being totally and unexpectedly charmed by the band’s earnest, subtly heartwrenching set was one of the most refreshing show experiences I’ve had all year. The lightly nostalgic touch of the material made the experience feel quite falling in love for the first time, that woozy feeling of teenage innocence decidedly fresh in my often jaded mind.
With the crowd fully in their pocket and time winding down, the band decided to encore with “Driving to Hawaii,” the signature jam we all needed at the night’s end. Members of Hot Flash Heat Wave came out for one final curtain call, joining in on the communal feeling of oneness that you’re supposed to get in church in the form of a righteous soft-mosh pit. Turns out, sometimes, to feel ok in life, all you need is a pleasant song to sing along to, swaying from side to side while reminding yourself, it doesn’t have to be so hard. You’re as free as the breeze.