Rogue Wave at Black Cat, 12/3/05

Live Review >>

Rogue Wave photo
Rogue Wave

Zach Rogue is auditioning for the role of leading man in the indie rock world. Being from California—Oakland, to be exact—he should know that he needs to look the part. But Rogue‚Äôs version of sensitive singer/songwriter for his band Rogue Wave would be better cast on MTV‚Äôs ‚ÄúJackass‚Äù than an MTV2 music video. He‚Äôs got muscles, an earring, slicked back blonde hair ‚Äì and, much unlike the emaciated, gloomy addicts that typically typify his position, a sense of humor and a smile.

First impressions when Rogue happily hopped onto the Black Cat stage on December 3rd: No way could this guy produce the emotional, melodic gems that have critics comparing Rogue Wave to Elliott Smith and Death Cab for Cutie. But then again, the band‚Äôs two Sub Pop releases in two years—Out of the Shadow in ‚Äô04 and Descended like Vultures this October—have won plenty of placements on indie sites‚Äô ‚ÄúNot To Be Missed‚Äù lists. They‚Äôve had a song chosen as iTunes‚Äô free song of the week, and even earned one of Pitchfork Media‚Äôs endangered good reviews.

The acclaim was explained when Rogue opened his goateed, grinning mouth around midnight. Rogue Wave‚Äôs second album was its first with a full band; Out of the Shadow was a quieter solo effort, so, appropriately, the band’s set started with the first (and only avian) track on Vultures, the not at all Leonard Cohen-related ‚ÄúBird on a Wire.‚Äù The full harmonies and blaring guitar backing set a precedent for the rest of the show and made a case for the band‚Äôs new “rock‚Äù status. This plea was proven with other upbeat performances from the newest release, especially the frenetic ‚Äú10:1‚Äù and impossibly catchy ‚ÄúPublish My Love,‚Äù which has already been snatched up by indie-idolizing soap, The O.C. Standing at only 40 minutes long, most of Vultures could be and was played at the concert, invoking sounds of The Shins and Death Cab for Cutie‚Äôs more buoyant moments.

The Smiths comparisons also were illuminated when Rogue got back in touch with his lo-fi side, switching from playfully jostling his bandmates to vulnerable crooning. “Salesman at the Day of the Parade” was one of the softer moments, a lilting, guitar-driven apology. For the encore, Rogue stood alone on stage with a new song that ironically seemed like a retrospective. He explained that he had just written “Dropout,” a melancholy acoustic number that might’ve fit on a Sufjan Stevens album, if not an earlier one of Rogue’s.

All these comparisons lead to the conclusion that Rogue Wave sounds a lot like what’s out there already. In fact, that statement itself is a repeat of what critics have often mentioned as the band’s downside. While applauded for solidly good songwriting, it’s almost always footnoted that the band’s title is a bit deceiving. Belying his last name, Zach is not a rogue at all: he generally stays the course set by the bands that have been previously and will continue to be mentioned whenever Rogue Wave comes up in conversation.

But though it may sound like it, Elliott Smith never wrote “Temporary” and nowhere on The Shins’ track listings is there a song called “Are You on My Side.” Ben Gibbard has never played “Postage Stamp World” – not even with The Postal Service. Rogue Wave’s are songs that deserved to be written, and even if they sound similar to those of other bands, Zach Rogue was the only one who could do it. Looks like he’s right for the role after all.