04.03.05 @ Axis, Boston, MA
Let’s be honest- Alternative Press has seen better days. What once was the authority of the underground (albeit for a short while) is now a vehicle for major-label emo and Hot Topic punk. Considering how Editor-in-chief Jason Pettigrew recently urged his readers to go see the Taste of Chaos tour (the My Chemical Romance, Used, and Senses Fail festival of pseudo-goth gimmicks and eyeliner), expectations were low for a tour bearing the Alternative Press name. While the concert did have its ups and downs, a packed house and a strong lineup of up-and-coming talent proved otherwise.
Taking the stage first was Victory Records’ latest next-big-thing project, Spitalfield. The band successfully warmed up the crowd, which responded positively with a weak, emo mosh pit. Spitalfield’s high-energy blast of melodic rock was generic, but entertaining. The Honorary Title began their opening slot with tight melodies and strong vocals, but the songs deteriorated as the band soldiered on through their set. The performance was painful, as the band struggled to continue despite a rowdy and distracting crowd. The lyrics and subtleties of the band’s music were lost underneath the crowd’s murmurs, and by the last song, the Honorary Title was barely audible.
The surprise of the night came from Jonah Matranga (of Onelinedrawing and Far fame) and his new band Gratitude. Despite Matranga’s Creed-like posturing and overtly emo side banter, their performance was one of the loudest and most engaging of the night. Their set, consisting of songs from their self-titled debut release on Atlantic, was full of arena-worthy gems like “Drive Away” and “Last” that captured a side of the band that couldn’t be heard on the record. Even ballads like “If Ever,” which fall flat on the record, soar live with amped up guitars and ever-present sincerity. The band was at their best, and Matranga, who proved himself to be one of the scene’s most captivating performers, revived the mob of unruly music fans.
With incredible musicianship and band chemistry, Minus the Bear cruised effortlessly through an assortment of songs from last year’s They Make Beer Commercials Like This EP, 2002’s full-length Highly Refined Pirates, and their upcoming release Menos el Oso. Along with some of the best song titles of all time (“Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse,” “Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo,” “Let’s Play Clowns,” etc.), Minus the Bear had some of the most enthusiastic fans of the night. The band’s complex and intense layered instrumentals were unexpected at a show filled with kids sporting thick-rimmed glasses, and their raw, powerful sound resonated through the stuffy, crowded club.
Apparently, Straylight Run has been influenced by masterminds in the Polyphonic Spree and Dashboard Confessional to spend time between tours building a cult of fanatics. From beginning to end, concertgoers sang every note they could hit, which limited them to songs with John Nolan on vocals (Straylight Run fans should teach this simple rule to Coheed and Cambriafans). The band busted out the rarity “Costello,” as well as new songs like the quietly melodic “First of This Century” and the jazzy, genre-defying “Still Alone.” Although a false start on the brand new song “Still Alone” prompted vocalist Michelle Nolan to abandon the microphone with an utterance of “this is awful,” the band sounded better than ever overall. Songs from their self-titled debut, including the MTVU staple “Existentialism on Prom Night,” were virtually perfect. The band closed with a lively rendition of “Mistakes We Knew We Were Making,” capping a melodic night of promising alternative rock.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.