I’ve been to quite a few of the House of Vans shows and it’s safe to say that they are a special thing; especially in the colder months, where the warehouse’s natural temperature perfect compared to the sometimes over-stuffy summer shows. So to say that this particular show was one of the more stunning, thanks in large part to Jen Stark’s curated art experience and the distinct and enjoyable performances from Injury Reserve and Empress Of.
As I walked into the venue, my senses were overloaded with Jen Stark’s vast array of colors and shapes, gently moving across a screen that took up most of the wall. In the small alcove toward the back of the venue (right in under a mass of phallically arranged glowing balloons) was a room with more geometric shapes twisting and turning on a projected screen, a camera in front of it waiting for guests to take a picture within the kaleidoscopic realm. It’s psychedelic beauty fit perfectly with House of Vans and later on with the night’s musical acts, as the wavy lines filled with vibrant hues were projected onto the stage.
After a good amount of time to explore the every moving art pieces, it cam time for the music to take over, Injury Reserve emerged first and made it abundantly clear that they were here to party. Joking throughout their set about the crowd dynamics (at one point asking for arm-folded audience members to make way the true fans to jump to the middle and mosh), the trio of Stepa J. Groggs, Ritchie With a T, and producer Parker Corey had no trouble amping up the crowd. Their nonstop energy mixed with beat/instrumentals that make you want to bounce around was destined for a great time.
Injury Reserve accomplished exactly what they set out to do with brutal tracks like “Eeny Meeny Miny Mo” to the undeniably catchy “S on Ya Chest”; the crowd was hot and completely entranced by the trio’s performance. However, it wasn’t until the very end, where Stepa took off his shirt, Ritchie went all out, and Parker blasted “All This Money” and “Oh Shit! back to back to end the set. These track emphasize the most over the top aspect of Injury Reserve’s sound, their subversive lyrics, and all in all made for an explosive end to a great set.
Initially I thought the pairing was a little to off kilter to work. Injury Reserve blasts with unrepentant fury while Empress Of delivers with a more effervescent quality. After Injury Reserve bombastic and intense performance, Lorely Rodriguez‘s Empress Of set was exactly what the crowd needed. She and her band mate came to the stage ready to give House of Vans a good show and delivered a great one!
Rodriguez focused her set on her more earwormy songs, namely the ones on her latest album Us. At one point she felt the need to call out some of the mixed reviews the album has gotten, thanking the incredibly receptive crowd for supporting her despite the haters. I was definitely on the side of the crow, dancing the night away to the dual-lingual “Trust Me Baby”, where Rodriguez’s voice shined with expected confidence. “When I’m With Him” sparkled despite it’s tale of a failing relationship. The chorus “I Don’t Even Smoke Weed” felt light and jovial despite being a little more complex in its meaning that the instrumentals let on.
While her new songs were the star of the performance, Rodriguez was sure to pepper in some older Empress of tracks throughout. Deep cut “Realize You” blossomed under the bright and vibrant lights while the empowering and poised “Woman is a Word” rattled with purpose in fun and rousing set.
Honestly it was hard not to get lost in the night’s atmosphere by this point. Empress Of was sending the night away with jam after jam, the dizzying array of lights projected on to her dancing with as much gusto as she was, and the crowd’s energy was at its most expressive. Everything mixed together and became inseparable, a multicolored sea of sound surrounding us. Everyone around me was grooving along to the music and once it was all said and done the crowd seemingly wanted to stay in the ambient forever or as long as they possibly could. House of Vans tends to do that to you. Eventually the house lights did come up and majesty of Jen Stark’s colors evaporated, but there vividness and the nights grand music still played on in our heads.
All photos by Julian Ramirez