Royal Teeth [left to right]: drummer Josh Hefner, singer Nora Patterson, singer and guitarist Gary Larsen, guitarist Thomas Onebane. PHOTO BY SHERVIN LAINEZ.
Apparently, in New Orleans, that cliché about the music of clanging garbage trucks and sizzling asphalt is true. At least, Gary Larsen, guitarist and singer of Louisiana-based dance-rock band Royal Teeth, says so. The city is the group’s biggest influence. “People aren’t just standing there on the streets,” Larsen says—they’re moving; they’re distributing energy.
In contrast, the Minneapolis crowd at Fine Line Music Café on Wednesday night was conserving energy. It was about 10 degrees outside. Sweaters and chic jackets huddled close on the main floor, talking at polite volumes while Royal Teeth set up on stage.
The band is known for interactive, high-octane performances. Larsen often jumps into the crowd, where he will gently set down a drum to wail on during the last minute of “Wild,” an earnest, stomping track from the group’s 2013 album Glow. The chorus of “Wild” asserts, “I believe that I can make you scream,” followed by rising-in-pitch hoots.
Glow wanted to recreate an “explosive and energetic” live show in the studio, but Larsen thought it came out “too smooth.” On tour with SafetySuit following last year’s EP Amateurs, now Royal Teeth is capturing audience energy nationwide to unleash on its next album.
“Shows where I can let go—I remember those a lot better,” Larsen says. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m gonna try to look at the audience as more introverted.’ If I can convince them to feel more comfortable moving around, I’ve succeeded.”
He didn’t need to exert his imagination much Wednesday night. The crowd seemed pretty introverted already. Larsen refers to the bubbly vibe of New Orleans as an “advice” that he likes to share with other cities.
So, Minneapolis gets a lesson. Royal Teeth, all set up, starts by gauging the room.
“I think I’m gonna have you guys sing. Is that OK?” Larsen smiles. He has the nice-guy demeanor of a kid raised right. Somehow without being awkward, he directs a shy audience to almost-sensually coo, exuding the goofy assurance of a kindergarten music teacher. In a “GHOSTY” cap, he struts and full-body bobs to drummer Josh Hefner’s crack-the-drumhead beats. There’s zero irony or contrivance in his expression. He’s furrow-browed, totally into it.
Meanwhile, singer Nora Patterson seems ethereal. On her tiny frame, she wears black leather pants, sports a shirt checked with black lips, and strikes a black tambourine. Her speaking voice sounds small, precise, and there’s an elsewhere-ness to it. She, too, addresses the crowd like a teacher, but more like a college professor to a middle school class—gentle, and full of a secret knowledge that would go over our heads.
“Maybe we should practice,” Larsen says, flirting with the audience before jumping into “Mais La,” a song that requires call and response, its French title meaning “I can’t believe it.” Like a scientist accepting a colleague’s proposal, Patterson nods. Practice could benefit this crowd.
Larsen might routinely improvise one-man drum circles before stages in strange cities, but he is introverted himself. Small venues such as the one at Fine Line Music Café intimidate him. “You can really see if you’re grabbing them or losing them, if they’re grabbing their phones,” he says. Peers teased Larsen in high school for songwriting that vented personal problems—serious, a bit moody. Then, the rush he got from a happy, dancing audience turned him toward the loud-and-alive sound Royal Teeth is acclaimed for today.
Kneeling down, he helps a front-row woman clap to the beat.
He hops off the stage, maneuvering a drum along with him. The crowd perks up to take this in while Patterson continues singing, lost somewhere in the rafters. A girl turns her phone around to record whatever’s going on up there. Nodding and attentive, apparently aching to give Royal Teeth love, the Minnesota audience finally starts to undulate.