Editors' pick

The Soft Pack


Editorial Review

Brian Hill wasn't going to miss his chance. The drummer for the Soft Pack had just finished pounding his way through a fiery version of "Answer to Yourself" on the biggest stage of his career, "Late Show With David Letterman." When the song was done he quickly jumped out from behind his kit to join his bandmates at the front of the stage. And then all four got to share a handshake with the late-night icon.

"I've known a couple people who got to do his show before, and they were like, 'Well, we didn't really get to meet him,' " Hill recalls. "So if you're a drummer in a band that's making a debut on his show, you really are like: 'I got to get that handshake!' "

Chances are good there will be another visit to the Ed Sullivan Theatre in his future. And not just because singer-guitarist Matt Lamkin dedicated the song to Warren Zevon, an old Letterman favorite. The San Diego quartet sticks to one of rock's oldest traditions: four dudes playing rock songs on guitar, bass and drums. Yet they manage to make it sound fresher than their contemporaries thanks to a knack for stinging guitars that perfectly mingle with a rough-and-tumble rhythm section. Picking a highlight from the Soft Pack's debut album is a tough task. Each of the 10 songs is concise yet fully formed, bursting with energy but never in an over-the-top manner, with Lamkin's husky voice and disaffected delivery setting the tone.

The band's lone D.C. gig, for about 30 people at DC9 in 2008, was memorable but for all the wrong reasons. "We were taking two cars, and one of the cars broke down. Then there was no drum set. So we had to get the people there to rent a drum set. It was kind of like an Abbott and Costello movie," Hill recalls.

Problems like those seem to be behind the band, which has gained experience on the big U.K. festival circuit. The bigger crowds have them excited but so does the chance to meet more heroes. An April date at California's massive Coachella festival could find them playing for tens of thousands of potential new fans. But for Hill, one of the big draws is getting to see reunited indie rock heroes Pavement.

"We're all big fans. I never got to see them; they broke up when I was 18 or 19. So we're all really excited for that."

Soon enough, those stargazing tables are likely to turn.