How do you write about bands that don’t exist?
To be fair, Dreamcar — the recently announced joint venture of AFI lead singer Davey Havok and No Doubt members Tony Kanal, Tom Dumont, and Adrian Young — does exist, but barely. Their first single, the upbeat rocker “Kill for Candy,” premiered on Los Angeles radio station KROQ in early March. They’ve since released another single, “Born to Lie” — and that’s it.
The band’s eponymous studio debut drops on May 12, which meant that when I entered Great American Music Hall on Sunday night, I had roughly six minutes’ worth of music to use as context.
In some ways, this scenario is a welcome departure from the normal routine, wherein fans go see a band they love hoping they play their favorite songs. Radiohead and Green Day don’t have to sell me on their music with their performances – I’ve already bought in a long time ago. With Dreamcar, the stakes were somewhat different, even if the results were ultimately the same.
Lead singer Davey Havok seemed charmed to be playing a space as small as Great American, a contrast from the larger venues necessary to house fans of AFI, the dark pop-punk outfit he’s been fronting for nearly 20 years. At one point, he scaled an amp to grab the hand of a fan reaching down from the balcony. His charisma was infectious as he paraded through a series of new songs.
The No Doubt section of the group seemed equally enthused. Bassist Tony Kanal wore a genuine smile for much of the evening as he laid down the rhythm for songs that often found their kindred spirit in the ether between Duran Duran and Tears for Fears. If forced to decide, the music was closer to AFI’s brand of emotionally saturated punk than the bouncy ska of No Doubt, but in all honesty, Havok wasn’t bluffing when he told Billboard last year that this music “doesn’t sound like AFI or No Doubt.”
Instead, what echoed through Great American for a scant 45 minutes (that includes the encore) was something more in-line with New Wave by way of Live 105. It’s the kind of music fans of Fitz and the Tantrums will likely love, a brash but friendly melding of genres that invokes the ’80s without alienating the Hot Topic set.
Hopefully those younger listeners have spent the past year getting reacquainted with the late David Bowie, because one of the short evening’s highlights was a cover of the Thin White Duke’s “Moonage Daydream.”
“How about a song by a guy who made everything cool?” Havok asked at one point. Given the rapturous response of fans who had clearly grabbed tickets for their chance to get up-close-and-personal with the AFI frontman, it wasn’t immediately apparent whom Havok was referring to.
Credit should also be paid to the two backup singers and the saxophone player, who were all female and did a phenomenal job. You know Dreamcar is down with the 1980s when the sax solos start flying, and if Sunday night was any indication of what to expect from their album, it might be time to get your DeLorean out of storage.
Still, the question remains: How do we judge that which is still beginning to form?
After all, Dreamcar’s San Francisco show marked only their third live performance ever, part of a six concert warm-up run to their performance at Coachella later this month.
The answer, it seems, is to be forgiving and to exercise patience, but in truth, those efforts were entirely unnecessary.
Dreamcar took the stage like a band that has been at this for a long while, and in truth, they have. Sure, the name may have changed, but the players are all familiar. This is still the bassist with a Mohawk who wields his dexterity with furious abandon. This is still the lead singer who can seemingly touch the heart of every fan he sees, even if only for a moment, even when that moment is soaked in sweat and reverb.
They’re called Dreamcar now, but you know them. Or at least you will soon.