A young man stood near the Mills Shuttle stop in Berkeley holding a sign that read ‘Free hugs and CDs’ while a person in a robot costume made of cardboard boxes danced next to him. When I approached, the stranger handed me a homemade CD; it had no case, only ‘Illusion Lounge’ scribbled on it in handwriting. He explained that the band was to perform at Blake’s on Oct. 24.
This is how, on the night of the 24th, I found myself in the basement of Blake’s on Telegraph Ave. The small, intimate venue was empty when I arrived. The low ceiling bore a network of pipes and a few dim lights, as well as a vine of some sort winding down the middle. The floor-level stage was set up for the opening performers.
There were a few people in white t-shirts stained with false blood still setting up the merchandise table and discussing the night’s set-list; these characters were, presumably, the band in question. A few early fans appeared wearing their Halloween costumes, but there wasn’t much to do besides wait for the 9 p.m. show to begin.
Before heading upstairs for some last-minute promoting, the band huddled together in a short meeting. Shortly after that, a bartender announced that it was 15 minutes to show time, and the venue had to be emptied.
Glancing around outside, I noticed a familiar face: the tall young man who had handed me the free CD a few weeks before stood talking with one of the people in bloodstained shirts. As it turned out, the familiar stranger was Mike Warren, the vocalist of Illusion Lounge, and the one in the t-shirt was Matt Foos, the keyboardist. As Warren gave me a brief summary of how the band came to be, Foos made a phone call, and within minutes, the rest of the band (guitarist Theodore Slavin, bassist Dustin Kennerley and drummer Michael Brocious) came to meet us.
“I met the bassist and guitarist while I was working at a theatre about nine months after my first band split up,” Warren said. “I was looking for new musicians to start another band with, and we just happened to meet.”
Once all five members of the band were present, Foos described the sound as “psychedelic blues with a heavy funk beat. You can dance to it, and we’re serious about what we do.” While Slavin simply said, “We’re awesome!”
When asked for a message to listeners the band says, “Play it loud. Support local music, and play it loud.”
The venue was opening, so I thanked them, and went to stand in line. Fifteen minutes and $10 later, I was back in the basement, but this time there was funk music playing in the background, and an encouragingly large crowd waiting for the show to begin. After strong performances by the opening three bands, Illusion Lounge took the stage at 12:30.
They gave a high-energy performance that made it very clear from the start that they were not only serious about what they did, but also that they truly loved music. Their songs had evident funk and ’50s influences mixed with classic and hard rock elements.
The crowd was fully engaged in the performance, and seemed to be enjoying themselves almost as much as the band was. Warren occasionally stepped offstage during songs to interact with the crowd, dancing among them as the rest of the band kept the energy up onstage.
There were technical difficulties with the sound equipment, but the quality of the music itself was such that this wasn’t an issue. The performance was strong and energetic, and there was an excellent connection with the fanbase.
Illusion Lounge is a local, Bay Area based band with great expectations for the future. Each member has a distinct personality of his own, and all of them are as personable as they are talented. The only way to really understand this band is to experience it live. This one is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
As John, the roadie, said, “I’ve listened to a lot of local music, but Illusion Lounge is one of those bands.They’re hometown heroes. They’re very good at what they do, they’ve got a lot of charisma, and they’ve got a good sound. They’re something that’s been amiss from the music scene for a long time. I think the music speaks louder than words.”
To listen to the band visit www.thecampanil.com/arts.