Sunday January 4th, 2004 at TT the Bears in Cambridge, MA
Blue Moon Harem, The Jane Anchor, & Martly

Bix of Blue Moon Harem Kara Lafty of The Jane Anchor Joann Schmidt of The Jane Anchor Chris Conti of Martly [more]
[hi-res .mov video] [lower-res .mp4 video]

So there's this fat kid running down Harvard Ave. with two pieces of Common Ground pizza in his hands on a Sunday night at 8:49 p.m. He's huffing and puffing to catch the 8:50 bus, and to just get this far, he's already abandoned friends at the bar, tipped way too much to avoid the wait for change, and knocked down an old woman who was walking too slowly. Frankly I think she deserved it – I should know, I'm the fat kid. As proof of the nonexistence of a god, I was rewarded for my rush by standing dimly at an empty bus stop for fifteen minutes. Conclusion: the bus that is always late must have been early. I flagged down a cab, and $10 later, I walked into T.T. the Bear's, demoralized.

The terribly tall doorman found my name on the list and I walked into the club. It was dark and empty. I slipped back to the entryway to get a look at the night's lineup. "Martly 9:15-10:00." I looked at my phone. 9:15. Hmm. However, to both the club's and the band's credit, within a minute, the members of Martly walked onto the stage, the lights were brought up, and the show began on time.

Martly is a five-piece from Albany, NY playing an inauspicious power pop with some rough edges. Vocalist/Bassist Dave O'Connor's vocals are generally lazy and nondescript. Thankfully, when he is excited, additional rasp creeps in, giving his vocals a pleasant Paul Westerberg-type quality. Unfortunately, he has trouble controlling this rasp, though, and often goes over the top, puking his vocals in a forced "is this what rock vocals should sound like?" manner. Chris Conti's hollow body Gibson guitar is an odd choice for the band, as its full, rounded tones often compete with that of guitarist John Delehanty's Richenbacher. Conti is also guilty of jamming in too many guitar effects, and thus clouding the keyboard lines from Paul Koelbel. This, in itself, is a mixed bag. Even when Koelbel's keyboards are allowed to shine, such as in newer number, "Brandi," the synthesizer swells are simply derivative (particularly of Cake). Drummer Dani O'Connor's style is straightforward, with a shuffle or occasional bounce. Although he wore an earpiece throughout the set, I'm not sure if he was playing to a click track, or merely insuring that his own beats match with the digital percussion that occasionally augmented his own playing. While the raw ingredients of a great band may be present, this decade-old band, borne as a cover band, has yet to refine them into something delicious.

The small audience of twenty or so milled around while Martly removed their gear from the stage. A few short minutes later, Philadelphia's The Jane Anchor would begin their set, and the audience would quickly apex at just over thirty. The Jane Anchor, by all accounts, was the evening's headliner. Whether they asked to play early (the band drove back to Philly after the show), or the promoter simply made a mistake, the night's final band would later pay the price.

The Jane Anchor is the latest musical offering of Kara Lafty. After several low-to-middle-profile indie bands (Moped & Sonny Sixkiller) spanning back a decade, Lafty formed The Jane Anchor. After an unsuccessful lineup or two, she recruited a backing band entirely from Ike, another local band of peers. The current lineup consists of guitarist/vocalist John Faye (memorable from his work in the delightful band The Caulfields), bassist Joann Schmidt, and drummer Dave Anthony.

To be blunt, the band builds on the late 80s alternative pop sound; not far from The Primitives, or any number of bands that wrapped revved guitars around a shimmering pop base. Each of The Jane Anchor's songs is a pleasant burst of studied songcraft with expected choruses that develop naturally from wholesome verses that seem more Midwestern than any birthed on the East Coast. Although seldom as direct and biting as Elizabeth Elmore's Sarge, there is a similar energy.

While the band's official biography makes no mistake in proclaiming that this is Lafty's band, it is her interplay with Faye that makes this band interesting – both on stage and in the studio. His backing vocals can be both measured and sweet, or erupting with raw, close-eyed energy. Faye makes it difficult to imagine an incarnation of The Jane Anchor without him. Similarly, bassist Joann Schmidt presents a lasting image with her classic rock swagger, feathered hair, and denim-clad Suzi Quatro persona. While this Philly band will never be the flavour of the month as dispensed by the rock elite, if pop blended with equal parts sugar and power is your favourite flavour, then you'll eat up The Jane Anchor.

At the end of The Jane Anchor's set, the audience seemed to vanish. While the band had admitted to importing a fair number of fans from their hometown, one would have thought everyone in the club had flown in to see The Jane Anchor and then, as the last notes sounded, ran out to their waiting airport-bound taxis. I stuck around, along with only eight or so other curious individuals, and watched as Blue Moon Harem assembled their gear.

Blue Moon Harem vocalist, "Bix," began the set by saying, "We're not from anywhere cool like Albany or philadelphia." Although the band is from Boston geographically, I can testify that Blue Moon Harem is nowhere near cool. As the foursome began their set of blues-inspired bar rock, the thinned audience thinned further. After two songs, there were only three people in the room. After the third, I left, leaving only one fan to keep the band company. Sure, there were a few more fans at the bar (probably significant others), but it was obvious that the power-pop audience who had come for the first two bands, was not interested in this band's natch guitar solos or the posturing vocal swagger. I'm not one to walk out on bands, but I did. I think that says all that needs to be said about this show's distasteful finale.