When Good Friends Become Strangers closes with a belated cover of U2’s “New Year’s Day,” but let’s start there, because it gets the inevitable comparison to Bono and friends out of the way early. Keyboardist-vocalist Frank Garcia’s voice thrives in the higher-pitched, most dramatic octaves, and guitarists Anthony Gauna and Abraham Tobar trade off lead and their sound alternates between those standard New Wave six-string descriptors “angular” and “chiming.” Considering Tobar’s long headbanger hair and White Zombie T-shirt, it shouldn’t be surprising that the angles feel a little more serrated and the chimes ring a little heavier than the Edge’s work on the original, but Garcia’s melodic keyboard accents cushion the blows.
Most of the band’s original songs follow a similar structure: Garcia’s expressive vocals build to a controlled frenzy, which finds third-act release in an instrumental torrent, which drummer Nick Ibanez regulates with the iron fist of Mussolini’s railroad commissioner. U2 holds no patent on the cinematic swell-to-climax song structure, and WGFBS’s repeated use is less like watching a magician perform the same trick for an hour than playing peekaboo as a child — you know your mom’s just hiding behind her hands, but you’re still delighted when she reappears.
An unpleasant buzzing forces Garcia to ditch one of his keyboards during setup, leaving him with a single full-size and a microKORG. Nothing sounds missing, though Garcia declares later, “That technical difficulty really changed the way we do things.”
“Let’s have some fun!” he shouts before opener “Surrender,” a song with a drumbeat made for awkward dancing and a finger-tapped guitar lead from Tobar. “The Animal” repeats a single chord in standard 4/4 until it feels like a mantra, and Garcia’s explosive keyboard keeps it from growing stale.
“It’s my favorite song,” a lady in the crowd shouts after Garcia announces “Last Chance,” and the keyboard riff turned vocal hook definitely makes it one of the band’s catchiest. Meanwhile the guitars grow a little more vicious. “Last Chance” is a new song, Garcia says, one WGFBS will be putting on an upcoming album, which they’ll start recording after bassist Jeff Olivares leaves for Italy.
Hopefully they’ll come up with a better name for “Wake Up, Neo” before then, because it looks to be an album highlight. Garcia’s wordless “hoo-ooh”s reach raw nerves he rarely accesses singing actual lyrics, and the guitars, restrained for so long, finally take over. The only other time the band plays with this much authority is during that U2 song. If they can match the conviction of their covers in their originals, WGFBS will be a band worth getting acquainted with. — Jeremy Martin