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Wednesday August 11th, 2004 at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA
Gone Baby Gone, Superflow, The Perfectionists, & A Hero Next Door
Mark Duchane of Gone Baby Gone
Pete Abajoli of Superlow
Aaron Goldman of The Perfectionists
Ryan Secor of A Hero Next Door
[more photos]

When I first moved to Boston, every band was an unknown. Consequently, I took a lot of chances on bands. I didn't know who was good and who wasn't, so I went to random shows every chance I got. Quickly, I established a list of favourite bands, and lazily filled my concert calendar with their dates out of habit. Lately, it's hard to get me out to see a bill comprised entirely of bands I haven't already seen. During this period of admitted xenophobia, A Hero Next Door invited me out to a handful of shows, all of which I politely declined. However, when I decided it was time to crawl out of my shell and peered at the concert listings, A Hero Next Door's name leapt out at me. After an email or two with an agent of the band, it was all confirmed. I would put myself back into the game on Wednesday night.

At 9:15 Boston's A Hero Next Door climbed onto the stage. The band is comprised of five guys; each appeared to be in his early 20s, most of them quite handsome, and a good number noticeably wee. The quintet is configured in the usual way I suppose: two guitars, bass, drums, and a vocalist left to freely dance or pace about the remaining free space on the stage. To use the term loosely, the band is emo – that is to say its music is a healthy dose of the teeny pop schlock that passes for emo now, with just enough reverence paid to the originators to earn it the benefit of doubt. While most of the set was merely pleasant, there were some nice high points, including a new song that featured some fantastic interplay between the lead guitar and vocals.

Although the band's grating guitar dissonance is appreciated – and goes a long way to ward off the unflattering pop label – its stage show swings the band firmly back into line with its ovine peers. Bluntly, A Hero Next Door's performance was saccharine and mechanical. The synchronized jumps, practiced microphone tricks, boy-band dance moves, and finale stage "dive" made me feel just a bit dirty, and no amount of raised-guitar thrashing and stomping could cleanse me. Although it is obvious that frontman Mike Soltoff is a fine showman, his tried audience banter on this night fell flat due to a serious case of nerves. Whether this was the band's first gig at The Middle East I'm not sure, but I am sure this was a big show for the band regardless. Thankfully, a healthy number of family and friends showed up to support the band. In fact, A Hero Next Door drew the biggest audience of the night.

Philadelphia's The Perfectionists may not yet have a Boston fan base, but it will. The band's genre-defying indie rock with an abundance of impromptu audience interaction was easily the highlight of the evening. Esoteric vocals were delivered in spoken bursts between tumbling, evolving rock compositions. While not exactly math-rock, melody lines continually mutated as rhythms stepped through constant changes. Although the band owes a debt to many post-punk bands, its similarities to The Hold Steady and Les Savy Fav can be easily noted. If guitarists/vocalists Matt Rubin’s and Joel Blecher’s trips into the audience (and onto the club floor) were jarring and puzzling, their swung guitars were downright dangerous. A dangerous band is a good band.

Soon, Boston's Superlow would continue the trend of genre-less music for an entirely different – and effectively neutered – result. Combining both punk and hard rock with a bar band delivery, the band bore a passing resemblance to mid 80s Posh Boy bands such as TSOL. Any hint of glam was filtered through post-grunge, which made the band and its music about as dangerous as the Goo Goo Dolls. Unfortunately, this stylistic snoozefest was made worse by a stoic stage presence and lackluster song writing. Uninterested, I soon found a chair in the back of the room.

Headlining the evening was Gone Baby Gone – also from Boston. By virtue of its position on the bill, I suppose we can assume the band to be the most established of the night. Of course, I had not seen this fresh-faced foursome before, nor had I seen its absolutely adorable Billy Joe Armstrong-esque frontman Brendan Lynch. Gone Baby Gone is most noticeably a sugarcoated power pop band, but it does occasionally buzz with a punk urgency, recalling work by early Joe Jackson or Elvis Costello. Although most of the band's songs bounced along at a similar pace, blending into one another, there were a few variations, most noticeably a ballad (a song introduced as "the second gayest song ever written") and two covers (the first an obscure cover by The Outlets, and the second – the band's closer – an unconscionable cover of Soul Asylum's "Somebody to Shove.")

The band's material lacked the hooks of its influences; however, the set was generally enjoyable due to the members' stage presences. While there were no flashy synchronized jumps or strident trips into the audience, the band's performance was solid and led by a frontman who was relaxed, yet always in control. The band played to the small remaining audience without the usual gripes, mercifully opted to skip an encore, and ended its set gracefully a bit after midnight.

So I took a chance on four bands – one held promise, another inspired me to buy its self-released CDs, one was disagreeable, and one was merely not offensive. Is that enough to get me out to another lineup of unknown bands? Sure – unless one of my old standbys is playing elsewhere that night.

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