American Football-Paradise Rock Club 5/22

American Football didn’t necessarily sound perfect in Boston last night, but the band sounded like one that’s still wrestling with themselves to carve out new paths. Opening with “Silhouettes,” a new tune of theirs that features concert bells, the band came out swinging, which made the mix a bit glassy.  Something about the clang of chimes and Mike Kinsella’s go-to guitar effect clashed, but as things settled down the band achieved their trademark warmth and seemingly melded the lessons learned in the making of LP3 with the material that put them on the map.

“Honestly?” in particular felt more poised and confident than the original recording, with buoyant, bursting guitar work. This of course could be a product of the live setting, but we can imagine what those few original shows might’ve been like back in the day.  Of course “Never Meant” was a perfect sing along moment, and the extended trumpet interlude before “The Summer Ends” felt otherworldly.  Again, hard to say what exactly is new for the band, but between the contrast of Steve Holmes’ jangly sounds and Kinsella’s prickly guitars, and the solidly confident drumming from Steve Lamos, their instrumental chops were a constant show.

The encore was perhaps the cleanest, most full-circle moment of the night as the LP3 numbers felt fully fleshed out alongside the classic “Stay Home.” “I Can’t Feel You,” with its gloomy ‘oohs,’ assisted by Sarah from openers Pure Bathing Culture (who also did a perfect rendition of “Uncomfortably Numb” earlier in the night) achieved that glacial thickness that makes their third LP so beguiling. Then, the rest of Bathing Culture showed up for a wholesome redux of the “Heir Apparent” children’s choir, before cathartic repetition of the lyric “That’s life it’s so, so short” released us into the night.

On the whole, what really made the night was the fact that it flattened their hiatus. After adjusting to the stage and warming up a bit, each song very much stood on equal ground.  They sound like any band working to truly challenge themselves on their third album, not like one that’s capitalizing on cult status with a bunch of retreads of their former work—a remarkable feat for a band that once felt lost to cult status.

-Donovan Burtan

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PUP Royale Boston 4/25

You should basically know what to expect in approaching PUP on tour. They play their colossal songs; the crowd goes crazy; singer Stefan Babcock may or may not stage dive during “Full Blown Meltdown;” and hopefully the audience will provide vocal support for their especially anthemic new bangers.

Having graduated from bars with 150 audience members to more substantial indie rock spaces with a massive banner of their new album cover behind them, PUP now present catharsis on a grand scale.  Beers were thrown, lyrics addressed to our demons were communally screamed.  Admittedly, this caused problems for some audience members as the first song saw intense mayhem to figure out how exactly the moshing circles were to be dispersed (read: all over the place).  However, it was a mostly wholesome experience as “Oh-ohhs” from older material like “Sleep in the Heat” were handed off to the crowd and lyrics like “working the night shift/ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL” and “they used to say ‘don’t quit your day job’/well guess what/I NEVER HAD ONE” were transcendentally yelled.

The set was pretty much exactly an hour long with no quiet material or ballads, but there were some standout moments that saw the band testing their own formulas. “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will,” which served as part of the encore, is still one of their most twisting and winding tunes as melodies blossom as the tempos fly to the conclusion and “Meltdown” practically saw a whole new band appear.  For one song and one song only, Babcock dropped his guitar and menacingly strutted around the stage preaching his self referential tear down before tossing his body into the sea of fans, the quasi-hardcore, quasi-Black Sabbath pummel conjuring a whole new depth of darkness.

“Scorpion Hill” felt like the band’s new core.  The beginning of the tune was the quietest moment of the night and it saw a slight crack in Babcock’s voice–a crack in an otherwise absolutely flawless live sound, mind you–that made him feel like the center of a room of comrades (like the best death metal band out of Denton or som’thin’), before the tune completely broke open to run down his commuter rail/father anxieties.

And not to toot my own city’s horn, but there was something very Boston about the whole experience.  It was the first stop of this tour and the band mentioned that it was the first one to sell out.  Boston loves the shit out of pop-punk bands and maybe Toronto has some vague kinship with us.  Both are cities that are hard to live in–I currently ride a commuter rail myself for hours everyday–yet beloved by those within them.  As Harif Abdurraquib mentions in his essay about seeing Atmosphere play in their hometown, there’s something special about seeing a band in the city that made them and though that’s not exactly what happened last night their was some kindred spirit energy to the thing, as the band played to an audience they could relate to, one that really understood where they were coming from.

If Morbid Stuff felt like it transcended my “pop-punk is either rad or not rad, nuff said” concept with vivid storytelling and tons of heart, their live show fell somewhere in the middle–at its heart it was “60 minutes, trim all the fat, no encore, let’s party;” but some subtle detailing made it more than your average night at the gig.

-Donovan Burtan

Girlpool at The Sinclair 4/23

Girlpool felt limitless at their Boston show last night. A band that once sounded like two friends hanging out at home, shooting the shit with guitars; their latest LP saw an expansion on all fronts, and the live show only amplified this feeling. At parts feeling like the Cleo Tucker show, and others completely in Harmony Tividad’s plush back-pocket, the 45 minute set was magically eclectic and electrically charged by a proper touring ensemble.

Shout outs are certainly in order for openers Hatchie. I don’t love to make comparisons like this, but I couldn’t help but feel like the band sounded like a mixture of Heaven or Las Vegas and Celebrity Skin. In other words, the guitars were cosmic and the melodies direct and sugary. Rocking power trio, it was plainly impressive to hear singer Harriette Pilbeam absolutely nailing it—her bass causing her to lose exactly none of her stage presence.

In terms of Girlpool’s live translation, they brought limitless charm and charisma. Though What Chaos is Imaginary was contained by a particular lens, the live show felt a bit more unabashed.

This was most directly reflected in Tucker’s vocal performance, as the high range showcased at the tail end of “Hire” seemingly creeped in and out all over the place. Tunes like “Swamp and Bay” and “Lucy’s” were made raucous with this jagged vocal approach, and “Chemical Freeze” which closed (at least the pre-encore portion of the show), was wielded into a weapon of contrast. The lilting guitar line of the verses was bait-and-switched, at first sounding like an extended outro before the chorus returned one more rocking time, with Tucker blissfully screeching out each and every word. Encouraging a little bit of noodling and soloing from their touring guitarist, Tucker added a sly, rockist charm to the evening’s festivities.

Tividad, on the other hand, delved more into quiet, translucent spaces. The title track in particular shifted focus from Tucker’s joyful riffage into smarmy harmonies and icy platitudes—her impassioned but clear voice singing in a much more mellow tone.  Receiving vocal assistance from the keyboard player rather than Tucker at times, some of these moments felt a bit bittersweet—like a pair growing apart a bit but, luckily they both collided throughout the set, and returned to their roots with a (fan-requested) performance of “Soup” and “Chinatown” during the encore.

The whole effect of the night showcased a band that could go anywhere and visit any sound, but they also felt like they were still tied to each other in an organic way. Upon leaving I felt a bit like I wanted Tucker to transcend to full blown rock god, but I trust that these two will keep us both guessing and satisfied as their careers bound forward.

-Donovan Burtan

Concert Log: And the Kids

Had a stellar night at the Columbus Theatre last night. Between And the Kids’ virtuosic and emotionally charged set and the surprisingly unruly material from Bat House, the night was a true balm, never feeling anything less than great.

There can be a lot of value in catching a band at the cusp of their career as an opening act. Without any preconceptions sometimes you can clue into the heart of the project in a different way than the “oh hell yeah I love this song.” Opening for Priests some time ago, Snail Mail really pierced through my soul, and though I didn’t ‘know’ the band beforehand, I felt connected to them and it led to a quicker understanding when the debut album did finally show up on my doorstep.

Maybe in this spirit I should feel a little guilty of letting you in on the ‘secret’ of Bat House, but their act is a brilliant example of “anything can happen next.” At first it was vibey and subdued, almost like a mathy Grateful Dead with beautiful group vocals. But then they unleashed a cloud of noise and emerged on the other end with post-punk dissaffection—a plucky 7/8 groove later turned into emotionally open smolder, then a manic drum machine appeared and a power-pop guitar lead. Perhaps Deerhoof would be a the closest touchstone, another zany, mathy experience, but they felt quite singular, somehow touching on a bunch of musical styles in their own way.

As far as And The Kids themselves went, it was plainly impressive to see two people tackle such building and momentus musical material. Sure there were loops and backing tracks, but lead singer/ guitarist Hannah Mohan and drummer Rebecca Lasaponaro both constantly roared over them on drums and guitar, and layered vocals to boot.

Catharsis is definitely the name of their game—I mean their merch was a shirt that said “don’t die,” a reference to their tune “Champagne Ladies,” anchored by the lyric “Life is a bastard, life wants to kill you, don’t get old.” As Mohan’s vocals shifted from jumpy verses to anthemic climaxes, simple lyrics drove home existential angst in a relatable and fun way. The hallmark of their show ends up being how light and fun one can feel as they contemplate the melting effect television is having on our collective brains. And though this mission falls in line with the likes of Illuminati Hotties and Japanese Breakfast who are rock-dancing to similar conclusions, And the Kids are doing things their own way and continuing to carve out their own particular path.

-Donovan Burtan

Japanese Breakfast Royale Boston 4/1

Michelle Zauner was kicking herself for placing “Body is a Blade” right before her new song “(It? The?) Feels”(fuck I don’t remember what it was called lol), which she deemed “like the two saddest songs I’ve ever written.”

Zauner’s come up as Japanese Breakfast somewhat coincided with the death of her mother, and her album about it so yes, anyone there was probably expecting some tinge of sadness. Still, Zauner doesn’t completely drown you, her songs are filled to the brim with uplifting empathy and openness—“Body is a Blade” itself features the lyric “Find what’s left in you/Channel something good,” which almost works as the band’s mission statement—and between sharing stories of blacking out to Fleetwood Mac and jokes about frigid Boston, the band delivered a dynamic, life-affirming show.

The setlist was expertly planned in general. Front-loaded with the more pop rock side of things (shoutout to “12 Steps” as an opener, song fucking owns), the romantic classic-pop feel of “Boyish” worked as a kind of centerpiece, before an acoustic stint for “This House” and “Triple 7.” A cover of “Lovefool” got us smiling again and then the auto-tune landscapes of “Machinist” danced their way into the stratosphere. Zauner is the right kind of indie star for right now—if I’m not mistaken one of her signature tunes for her DJ sets is “Like a Prayer” which seems appropriately poptimistic—and the setlist reflected her elastic approach to songwriting with the band evolving from straightforward indie rock to dance pop vision in real time.

Though I think an ounce of intimacy will always follow the band, don’t see them stepping into the studio with Max Martin and Greg Kurstin any time soon, they seem primed and ready for a bigger world. Excited to see which planet we’re off to next.

Earl Sweatshirt Fete RI 3/31

There’s a couple things I was wondering upon entering Earl Sweatshirt’s Fire it Up tour. Basically, Some Rap Songs is a super intimate work with bedroom/lo-fi samples and a lot of talk about family, drug use, mental health, loss—so what does all that mean in the live setting? This can happen a lot when a band gets really busy in the studio and I think the mark of a truly great work is when it seemlessly works into an artist’s previous catalogue and that’s exactly what happened.

Though Earl kept certain pieces of albums together—“mollases” led off an opening of some old tunes before Earl did what he later refered to as the “SRS Prerequisites” which was “December 24th” through “The Mint” in album order if I’m remembering correctly and the first maybe 10 minutes of I Don’t Like Shit—the concert showed that yes, the new wobbled loops would translate well to the live setting and yes, his old fans would still be rapping along to every damn bar.

It’s also perhaps a testament to just how plainly powerful his lyricism is that he doesn’t really do anything special as far as stage presence. Openers Na-Kel Smith and Bbymutha both approached the night like a club set—Bbymutha actually got concerned about the audience song suggestions saying something along the lines of ‘I didn’t even bring that one why would anyone want to cry in the club.’. On the other hand, Earl sluggishly meandered around stage like a shaman of sorts, eyes closed for much of the night. There’s limitations there of course—sporting fewer and fewer hooks and melodies, Earl doesn’t seem primed and ready to inspire sing alongs in the future, but sometimes brevity is powerful. Like Some Rap Songs itself, Sweatshirt’s live set felt like a concise glance at everything he is.

-Donovan Burtan

Concert Log: Lucy Dacus at Columbus Theater RI 3/19

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Few artists are better suited to working with a fire-power-heavy backing band than Lucy Dacus.  She can certainly capture on her own–the show was book-ended by two unreleased tunes played without a band–but her tunes tend to twist and wind to their conclusions leaving plenty of space for rambunctious climaxes sporting massive cymbal crashes and noisy guitar flourishes to highlight her relatively grounded vocal style.

A band also allows certain influences and sounds to come through a bit too.  Mentioning that she was from Richmond, Virginia, I wouldn’t say that she quite lives in the south or fully has any sense of twang, but there’s a bit of alt-country or blues swagger sitting in the background of tunes like “Timefighter” or “Yours & Mine.”  Of course there’s more straightforward chugging rockers–her cover of “La Vie en Rose” particularly got the crowd moving– but for an artist who sometimes sounds a bit too broad-strokes stylistically, the live show alleviates this with more pronounced details to the tunes.

In terms of thematic material, Historian was largely a break-up album, but it also took time to ponder the question of what it means to write a narrative and look at the grand scheme of things.  There’s kiss-offs to those that wronged you, but also tunes that look at individual action and try to see the viewpoint of another.  The quiet and droney title-track, which ended the show literally asked “If past you were to meet future me/Would you be holding me here and now?”

Sometimes these questions can lead to apathy or aimless anger and Dacus can channel that into something productive, or at least recognize that avoidance is part of life too.  The final, unrecorded tune of the night was a perfect send-off that found empowerment in allowing its character to get angry at a deadbeat father.  The Lucy Dacus project is remarkably mature and as its writer continues forward, it feels like she’s only honing that weapon.

-Donovan Burtan