Ludlow House is, in a word, exclusive. Normally you need a membership just to pass through the locked front doors of the Manhattan club, and as the tastefully tattooed Johnny Depp double at the front desk was sure to remind me, taking pictures of any kind is strictly forbidden.
So of course, I had to take a look around.
The doorways were small, making the constant stream of visitors slow to a congealed crawl at each nexus between rooms. The population was surprisingly diverse, a good mix of men and women, black and white, and they all seemed accustomed to enjoying the finer things in life. On one floor, warm lighting greeted me as I gaped at a full in-house restaurant. A team of chefs wearing those big white hats worked merrily in an open kitchen, while guests sipped wine at their tables. Elsewhere, a fireplace quietly roared in a lounge area full of luxurious chairs. At one point, an employee dressed in all black caught me drinking in the scenery with big eyes, and he approached me with a half-annoyed, "Can I help you?" I turned without a word and headed back to the stairwell, a Jolly Rancher snatched from an open container hiding in my pocket.
Hear the song "Nightcrawler" off of Skydogs
I slowly made my way to the third floor, where Belgian rockers The Sore Losers were about to perform for their very first American audience to promote their new album Skydogs. I wasn’t the only one a little confused by the choice of venue. Joking about Ludlow House’s exclusivity, lead singer Jan Straetemans later told me, "People usually pay membership fees to AVOID people like us!"
Nowhere was the contrast between The Sore Losers’ grounded, visceral sound and the lavish, highbrow surroundings more apparent than on the third floor, which housed an assortment of gaudy faux-intellectualist curios. Coffee table books on obscure art movements and vacation destinations only the richest can afford to visit. A giant etching of a naked, headless body. Initially interesting but ultimately meaningless statements framed as pictures: "VERBAL LANGUAGE EQUALS NON-VERBAL LANGUAGE." The type of thing in front of which posers can stop and nod thoughtfully to impress their girlfriends.
Anyway. At least the couches were comfy.
After chatting with a few towering Yale grads near the bar, it was finally time for the show. The Sore Losers jumped on stage, which was really just the back part of the room with a curtain added in front. The domestic wallpaper behind them and cosy lighting made it seem like they were performing in a living room. I kinda dug it.
Sporting a classic black leather jacket, Jan grabbed the mic and called to the 120-ish attendees, "Come in front, this is a rock show!" A group of us worked closer to stand just in front of the stage as The Sore Losers began their set.
Now I’ve been to a lot of shows, but more than just about any other band I’ve seen in person, there is virtually no difference between The Sore Losers’ recorded and live material. They’re both dense with the same feel-good swagger, the same refined talent and Zeppelin-esque energy. I immediately realised I was watching some true rock ‘n’ roll artists do what they do best.
Drummer Alessio Di Turi played passionately with not just his hands and feet, but with his entire body. Rocking a pair of handsome black shades, he kept his head tilted forward and to the side, as if listening to the secret heartbeat of his apparatus. He was clearly into it, and the feeling was contagious. I soon found myself standing next to band manager and World’s Nicest Human, Nikkolaas, both of us whooping and hollering as loud as anyone in the room.
In a perfect embodiment of his instrument, bassist Kevin Maenen wasn’t the most eye-catching member of the ensemble, but he often stood firmly to the side, reliably providing the songs’ backbone and a consistent visual point of reference for the audience. Guitarist Cedric Maes whipped out some absolutely blistering solos, and I made sure to tell him so after the show. He claimed he had actually been pretty nervous, especially since America has produced some of the best guitar players in history. "I was like, ‘What the hell am I gonna do?’" he told me. Whatever he did… it left me saying a lot of "Wow" and "Holy shit."
Check out the video for the track "Got It Bad"
As for Jan, he owned every bit of the badassery that comes with a black leather jacket like his. Sometimes playing his own guitar and sometimes just gripping the mic, Jan belted the songs with gorgeous, soaring vocals that never missed a note. And like some Belgian Prometheus, he brought the fire of rock to the crowd by darting offstage and weaving between audience members, peering into their eyes and daring them to not feel the magic. I certainly was, and it seemed like most of the crowd, though perhaps a bit stunned, was too.
The compact 45-minute set was over all too soon, and as The Sore Losers walked off, a male audience member near the front called out, "I wanna fuck you!" Bassist Kevin turned, pointed at him, and motioned backstage with a joking smirk.
As I chatted with the guys shortly thereafter, they felt like their first show in the States went well, and I had to agree. Kevin mentioned that before and after the performance it still felt a bit strange to be in America, but when the time came to play, "A show is a show," he said simply.
Indeed it is. Because as Jan had explained to me in our sit-down interview earlier that afternoon, The Sore Losers are all about "good time rock ‘n’ roll." And whether the show takes place here in America or home in Belgium, one thing’s for sure: The Sore Losers bring the fire.