The Love Language in low places

On record, The Love Language has enhanced its fraying emotions with divergent pop techniques. But The Love Language has always been at its best when it plays lean and lively garage rock. The quartet that Stu McLamb now leads understands that better than any of the band’s previous iterations, which made it the perfect choice to headline Monday’s celebration at The Cave.

Monday was the club’s first night of operation under a new-ownership trio that includes Mark Connor and Van Alston, the tandem that operates the Raleigh bar Slim’s. The Cave has a cherished history as a friendly dive and music hot spot, a niche very similar to the one occupied by Slim’s. If Monday was any indicator, the new owners will do fine maintaining that charm. The show started late with a break in the middle, allowing attendees from a show at Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle to wander in and The Cave’s patrons to get properly sauced before The Love Language ended the night. Rounds of Fireball cinnamon whiskey were shot at the bar. Hugs and high fives were plentiful. The faux-rock confines felt friendly once again.

The relaxed sets by openers Ryan Gustafson—now a guitarist for The Love Language—and Old Bricks made it feel like nothing had changed. Gustafson mixed complex, Fahey-inspired instrumentals with road-weary country ballads in a quick acoustic performance. It was an inviting and simple offering, a fitting introduction to an early-week show. Old Bricks tried out an array of new songs that delved further into the driving rhythms and distorted atmospherics of last year’s City Lights LP. It was rough but fulfilling, false starts and equipment problems giving way to gorgeous tones and danceable beats.

The Love Language’s set felt like a special event. As they played, the room was full but not packed, a respectable turnout given that it was nearing midnight on a Monday evening. The outfit roared through older songs with ragged intensity, retro-pop melodies exploding into colorful distortion. The band’s new songs were a cut above, hurtling forward with the kind of kraut-inspired momentum mastered by California’s Thee Oh Sees. Connor, clad in a coat and tie for the occasion, joined in during one of the choruses, flanking McLamb alongside Old Bricks’ Andy Holmes. Connor shouted loudest, apparently swept up in the possibilities of his new venture.

There were no sudden changes at The Cave on Monday. For the most part, it was business as usual. But the evening resounded with a sense of enthusiasm and energy, making it easy to get excited about the club’s new era.