Memorial Day weekend kicked off with a burst of fresh summer heat courtesy of Saint Motel. The California-based pop-rockers have been hanging around the Pacific Northwest for a few weeks, finishing up their long-awaited second album. Their visit to the Hi-Fi Music Hall last Friday marked their first stop in Eugene, but the crowd welcomed them with open arms and howling cheers.
The band opened the show with a new track off their upcoming album entitled “Move.” It’s a fresh pop anthem with frenetic horns and a fierce beat. While the band may only have one full-length album and two EPs under their belt, their live presentation is more polished than many bands with twice that experience. Lead singer A.J. Jackson has great stage presence, transitioning from piano to guitar with ease and taking plenty of time to shine for the crowd.
Fully realized intros, interludes, and buildups made Saint Motel’s hour onstage an absolute spectacle. It was impossible to stay still during this show, the jazzy baselines and smooth saxophone solos bringing out a primordial groove. By the time the band burst into their summer smash “My Type,” the hall was resonating with the sort of energy often reserved for stadium icons.
Part of Saint Motel’s unique appeal is in their commitment to a retro-influenced sound that is both referential and contemporary. Jackson’s crooning vocals in “Puzzle Pieces” stir up sunny memories of ’60s surf rock but with distinctly modern lyricism. “Benny Goodman’ samples the titular King of Swing, underscoring a modern drum beat with repurposed clarinet tunes. Only Saint Motel could cover Tom Jones’ “She’s a Lady” without a hint of irony.
An encore performance stripped out the piano for some purer rock tracks from the band’s catalog, finishing with the blissfully unhinged “Stories.” As Jackson took to the left amp to crank out a speedy solo against multicolored strobe backlights, it was easy to see how this act could fill spaces ten times the size of the HiFi. But for now, appreciate them in whatever form is available. Your summer soundtrack will thank me later.
Follow Chris Berg on Twitter, @ChrisBerg25