The first time I saw LVL UP was in 2013 at a basement show in New Paltz, New York as one of the openers for Lemuria. I remember them then—they were brash and messy in all the right ways, a joyous haze of fuzzy noise that was itself the connotation of basement show rock.
I miss college town basement show days: the packed, sweaty bodies into cavernous makeshift theaters, how easily and freely the crowd mingled, united in that sense of belonging, in a corner of the world where things were happening, somewhere under the surface.
That was four, almost five years ago now, somehow—I’ve graduated college and moved to the city in that typical migration pattern, and LVL UP has released two strong LPs (one on Sub Pop) taking all of that energy and tightening it, refining and rebooting it. That band I saw on someone’s cracked basement floor had a top ten song on Rolling Stone’s “50 Best Songs of 2016” list.
All this considered, their show at Baby’s All Right on October 7th, night one of a two-night stay, managed to capture that same sense of intimacy of a basement show, (but like, with elevated technical skill and superior sound) and conjured all of those visceral feelings of community, packed floor and all.
After Slight opened the night with a set my friend described as “desirably lean and earnest” (a most apt description) and Yowler sufficiently broke everyone’s heart, but in the best possible way, LVL UP came on stage saying “there wasn’t really any reason for this show, so we’re like really nervous and stuff, but this is really sick.”
They opened with “Hidden Driver” and mixed the night with old and new songs throughout. They played with time-signatures; “I Feel Extra Natural,” pensive and soft on the album, was transformed into a veritable rock song. “Ski Vacation,” which they announced as “our favorite to play but definitely the most boring for you” (not true!) took the opposite path and was slightly slowed from its usual jangle-bob. “Pain” was drowned in a sea of reverb and some feedback—I always loved it for its homage to Elliott Smith’s “Roman Candle.”
LVL UP represents, for me, and others too I imagine, a generation of acts that draws their influences from the same bands I grew up with—ones that were still releasing records into my teens, or ones that ruled the 90s, their legacy seeping over into the early 00s. Influences that I can pick out firsthand, that I can recall firsthand, rather than some kind of borrowed, secondhand remembrance of a Talking Heads track released before I was alive.
There was a point in college where I worried that all of this would just end after I graduated—that I wouldn’t like or be able to relate to bands like this what I anticipated as newfound maturity, or something. Of course it’s the opposite. I find myself just wanting to pretend we’re in liberal arts school forever with kids who grew up on Elliott Smith. That’s what a LVL UP show feels like.