Motion City Soundtrack, Set Your Goals, This Providence, Swellers
House of Blues Anaheim
A version of my review originally appeared in the OC Register. Photo courtesy of Columbia Records and www.motioncitysoundtrack.com
Sometimes the best lyricists are the quietest ones onstage. Mild mannered Motion City Soundtrack singer/guitarist Justin Pierre is a prime example. During a well-attended Anaheim show on Monday (with openers Set Your Goals, This Providence and The Swellers), he let the music do most of the talking.
Last month, the Minneapolis-bred quintet released long awaited fourth album My Dinosaur Life – their first on a major label - and nabbed a career high No. 15 placing on the Billboard 200 chart. Produced by Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, it finds the band crafting a supremely satisfying batch of effervescent punk-pop. Pierre sings from a darker frame of reference, yet still utilizes his trademark wry wordplay and amusing pop culture references to fine effect.
At the Mouse House, MCS entered to the whimsical strains of “Walk the Dinosaur,” a late ‘80s pop hit by Was (Not Was). “Worker Bee,” the first of seven new tunes performed, got the excellent hour-long, 18-song set off to a frantic start. Fans immediately sang along loudly and pogoed to Tony Thaxton’s insistent rhythms and Josh Cain’s buzz saw guitar work.
Thaxton broke his upper arm a year ago, resulting in an extended Dinosaur writing/recording period. In O.C., he was powerful as ever and showed no signs of holding back.
Old faves “The Future Freaks Me Out” and “My Favorite Accident,” from 2003 debut I Am the Movie, saw Pierre deliver vulnerable vocals alongside the musicians’ aggressive playing. “Delirium,” a giddy new one, found Pierre singing intensely about drug-induced paranoia while keyboardist Jesse Johnson had a blast playing a mini synth (he was the most animated member, by far).
A few selections from Even if it Kills Me (“Broken Heart,” “This is For Real”) were good, but didn’t go off like the new stuff. Stranger in a strange land-themed “Pulp Fiction,” where Pierre name checks “Miami Vice” and American pulp magazine writer Seabury Quinn in rapid-fire cadence, was a standout. It featured rich harmonies and this memorable couplet: “like a slasher film/I’m torn in opposite directions/the plot sucks but the killings are gorgeous.”
“A Lifeless Ordinary (Need a Little Help)” proved supremely catchy live and current single “Her Words Destroyed My Planet” is a surefire hit (why these guys aren’t as huge as Weezer after a decade together is baffling).
For the encores, MCS did a fierce “Disappear” as Pierre revelled in bleak desperation real and capped the concert off with a peppy, fun “Everything is Alright.”
Each opening act did a half hour opening set. First up was Flint, Mich.-based The Swellers. Led by brothers Nick and Jonathan Diener (vocals/guitar and drums, respectively), the earnest punk group turned in a solid - albeit somewhat monochrome - performance concentrating on last year’s Ups and Downsizing release. Frequently recalling face to face, the tunes delved into working class issues.
Seattle ’s This Providence brought far more variety, encompassing emo, pop and rock music that made a bevy of teenager girls in the venue swoon. Grainy-throated frontman Daniel Young informed the crowd of an ankle injury a few nights prior and that he wouldn’t be doing any wild “Story of the Year-type moves.” Still, the Australian born singer moved around quite a bit. Set highlights included the dreamy “My Beautiful Rescue (Renovated),” the propulsive “Playing the Villain,” which brought to mind late ‘70s Stones and dynamic, synth-driven closer “Let Down.”
The sloppy Bay Area hardcore sounds of Set Your Goals inexplicably got the best response of the three. There was crowd surfing and moshing galore. At one point, things got so crazy that co-lead singers Matt Wilson and Jordan Brown chastised House of Blues security guards for being too overzealous. Most of the militant, political tunes (imagine a blend of Pennywise with a little Less Than Jake and Rancid thrown in) were drawn from 2009’s This Will Be the Death of Us. None of the songs were particularly memorable, but the guys definitely had energy in spades. When the set ended, concertgoers shouted, “one more song!”