Sunday, January 30, 2011

Get Up Kids/Steel Train concert review


My review originally appeared in the Orange County Register and can be viewed at:

At first, there was a Teutonic atmosphere inside the Glass House.

Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” served as The Get Up Kids’ intro music. Then a female voice, taken off some German language tutorial program, led into show opener “Tithe.” The harrowing new rocker, driven by careening guitars and distorted bass, was the first of seven strong, adrenaline-fueled tunes from “There Are Rules” played in Pomona.

The influential Lawrence, Kansas quintet’s long awaited album came out this past Tuesday. Assisted by Ed Rose and Bob Weston (Shellac) in the studio, the band often utilized frenzied early Pixies-styled pacing and experimental touches a la U2’s Berlin-crafted “Achtung Baby.”

Alternative Press and other music publications have suggested the directional change will polarize supporters that have been around since The Get Up Kids’ mid-‘90s start. During the indie rock group’s four-year break, members scattered to such varied units as Spoon, New Amsterdams, Blackpool Lights and Reggie & the Full Effect, so progressing past the aggressive, yet sensitive guy sound was inevitable.  

Keyboardist James Dewees (of the latter act, plus New Found Glory and My Chemical Romance tours) puts his darkwave sonic stamp all over the “Rules” material, but was inexplicably absent on Friday night. Instead, a replacement musician appeared to trigger pre-recorded synth parts and do minor playing.

When I caught The Get Up Kids at this venue in September 2009, amid a tour to support the 10th anniversary reissue of their defining (and most successful) CD “Something to Write Home About,” the place was packed. This instance drew nearly as many high school and college aged concertgoers, but wasn’t sold out.

Matt Pryor sang earnestly and played guitar with sheer abandon throughout the 90-minute set – most notably on the driving, poppy “Action and Action” and “Red Letter Day,” plus  the quieter, acoustic-based “Overdue” (one person held a lighter aloft – how novel), moody “Walking on a Wire” and romantic “I’ll Catch You.” 

Before reaching back to 1997 debut “Four Minute Mile” for an intense “Shorty,” the frontman noted the band had been playing the Glass House a dozen years and gave a shout out Orange County’s way to performance space, Koo’s Art Café. Later, he asked the audience if they wanted another “really old song” and obliged with “Coming Clean.” Crowd surfing quickly commenced and ended just as fast.

Guitarist Jim Suptic got several vocal spotlights, including the new spacey, industrial-tinged “Automatic,” endearing “Campfire, Kansas” and goofy cover of The Replacements’ “Beer for Breakfast.”

The fractured electronic rock of “Rules” track “Shatter Your Lung” had Suptic adding synth as Pryor gave a creepy vocal delivery. All the guys seemed to be having a good time onstage, particularly the Pope Brothers (bassist Rob; drummer Ryan), who hugged between songs and joked around. Still, when everyone returned for the encores and a couple guys started spontaneously jamming, Pryor said, “no, we’re not writing new songs at a gig.”

Earlier, while waiting in line to enter the Glass House, a fan of opener Steel Train enthused that singer Jack Antonoff was one of the best guitar players around. The New Jersey alt-rockers definitely made a lasting impression at Coachella 2010, where I saw them kick off that Saturday’s main stage proceedings (the Bruce Springsteen cover also helped lure me over). Last year’s excellent and overlooked self-titled third album should’ve been all over modern rock radio.  

In Pomona, Steel Train raced through a rambunctious 40-minute set, rife with giddy Broadway musical-type group harmonies (“Children of the ‘90s”), frenetic piano (“Touch Me Bad”) and spastic guitar work from Antonoff and Dan Silbert (“S.O.G . Burning in Hell,” “Turnpike Ghost”).

The front man had a charming nature that brings to mind Jimmy Fallon (at one point, he exclaimed, “I love this town!”). All five members gathered around one microphone with only Antonoff on electric guitar for “Road Song” (off 2005’s “Twilight Tales…”) and finished with the soaring, Arcade Fire-like “Bullet.”

The Get Up Kids, The Glass House, Pomona, Jan. 28, 2011
Setlist: Tithe/Action and Action/The One You Want/Regent’s Court/Red Letter Day/Automatic/Shorty/Overdue/Pararelevant/I’m a Loner Dottie, a Rebel/Shatter Your Lung/No Love/Holy Roman/Keith Case/Campfire, Kansas/Rememorable/Coming Clean/Walking on a Wire
Encore: Beer for Breakfast/Holiday/Don’t Hate Me/I’ll Catch You/Ten Minutes

Photo courtesy of Terrorbird Records

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