“This is what not giving up looks like,” a sweat-soaked Josh Ostrander told the full house Tuesday night at the El Rey Theatre, a venue he had played as a support act several times over the years with his previous band but had never headlined.
There was one vestige of the frontman’s old band, Eastern Conference Champions, tucked in the corner of the stage — an ECC case that propped up the amp behind guitarist Drew Beck. But Tuesday night was about the present rather than Ostrander’s climb from relative obscurity, as the L.A. quintet capped six months of rigorous touring and festival gigs.
Clocking in at a tidy one hour, Mondo Cozmo’s performance offered a night of anthems for people who like anthems — from handclap-backed rave-ups to Boss-like paeans to hope, all with digestible choruses that beg for participation. Overall, they are songs for people who like the familiar, done earnestly and energetically by a troubadour Everyman.
And there was plenty of familiar. The title track of “Plastic Soul” is a re-imagination of Erma Franklin’s 1967 single “Piece of My Heart.” Besides the 40 minutes of music on the album, Mondo Cozmo worked in their covers of the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” and David Bowie’s “Heroes,” with Ostrander’s Philly rasp adding coarse desperation to the latter. Then there is the line from the unreleased song “Future Bends” that has been a staple of their live set: “Tramps like us / were born to die.” It’s never a mystery where Ostrander is coming from.
The band began with “Chemical Dream,” “Higher” and “Come With Me,” and then Ostrander shucked his leather jacket for the ballad “Angel.” “Hold on to Me” followed, then the slow-building, chart-topping single “Shine.” And the big-bodied “Thunder” swang the emotion from tender to explosive, the song ending with guitarist Beck and bassist Chris Null playing human bumper cars on stage.
The title track and the two cover songs followed, with Ostrander briefly reminiscing about having played the El Rey when it was emptier. The band closed with the Madchester-flavored “Automatic,” and that was it: a sold-out headlining show for a guy whose destiny to play one was anything but automatic.
North Carolina’s Flagship opened the night in similarly emotional fashion, highlighting songs from their new album “The Electric Man.”
Photos by Samantha Saturday