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Friday October 14th, 2005 at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA
Harris, Reverse, Junius, & Pants Yell!
Mike Nastri of Harris
Ian Kennedy of Reverse
Joseph E. Martinez of Junius
Andrew Churchman of Pants Yell!
[more photos]
[23.6M mp4 video]

The rain has continued in Boston and there is a sizeable contingency talking about ark construction. I'm sure it will never get out of committee, but I'm hopeful. Thankfully Boston streets are not too flooded for our fearless bus drivers, and on this night I was able to catch a #64 bound for Central Square. With my hood up, head down and iPod blaring Cerberus Shoal, I was prepared for the wet walk from the bus stop to the club. Like most of Boston, I wasn't feeling very festive, and this show was billed as a party. A CD release party for both Harris and Junius, in fact. While I hadn't come to party per say, I was looking forward to live music, human interaction, and a general change of venue. I had been cooped up in my apartment for too long.

Boston's Pants Yell opened the evening with some delightful, warming indie pop. Although Pants Yell was once the solo bedroom project of vocalist/guitarist Andrew Churchman, the band has since grown to include bassist Sterling Bryant and drummer Carly Smith. The band's sound is decidedly twee, although not so sickeningly sweet. While the genre is generally built on bright pop songs ripe with childlike joy and wonder, Pants Yell also throws in a fair amount of contemplative sorrow at slower tempos. Every twee band owes an obvious debt to Beat Happening and Pants Yell is no different, but this band's sound is generally fuller with better musicianship. That isn't to say that you'll find drum fills, bass runs, or guitar solos in any of Pants Yell's songs – just simple pop played well.

The minimalism of Pants Yell was followed by the dense cacophony of Junius. And while it is easy to assign Pants Yell to an appropriate subgenre, Junius has truly blazed its own path. Much of Junius' sound can be attributed to Guitarist Mike Repasch-Nieve. Repasch-Nieve is a brilliant sonictition, creating dozens of unique sounds with the aid of a monster box of effects. His guitar moves effortlessly from tones wet with reverb and delay to searing, grating noise. Spacey atmospheric echo is followed with driving riffs, both working magnificently. Vocalist/guitarist Joseph E. Martinez's voice is equally as tractable allowing him (with the aid of a few effects pedals of his own) to shift from a dry gothic delivery to an impassioned scream to meet each song's needs. While slower moments may briefly resemble post-punk revivalists like Interpol, Junius' sound is much darker, owing more to Sisters of Mercy or The Cult than British Sea Power or any of the modern bands laying claim to Joy Division's throne. Keiffer Infantino's fingered bass work is frenetic, matched only in intensity by Dana Filloon's drumming. In fact, the two often blended, leaving me wondering if I was hearing double bass from Filloon or an impossibly tight mix of the two players. Although the show was billed as a release party for the band's new EP, inevitable delays have pushed back the CDs arrival another month. Using the band's 2004 EP as a starting point, and this show as an indicator, the new EP should be mind-blowing.

While I initially thought I would use the time between acts to peruse the merch tables, visit with a few friends and secure a ride home after the show, a sellout crowd had packed the club making movement and comfortable conversation all but impossible. After abandoning my plans and working my way back to the stage, I sat idly watching the members of Reverse set up their gear. Although I had never seen Reverse, the guitarist looked incredibly familiar. Someone who sold me a burrito once? Bought a guitar off of me? Who was it? A bit of Googling explains that the band has recently gone through some shifts, adding former Model Sons guitarist Bryn Bennett and substituting in new bassist Mike Quinn (of Antler). Google also told me the band has been together for six years, and gotten some nice press in that time. Yet somehow Reverse had evaded my radar.

Once frontman Ian Kennedy finished tuning his guitar, the band jumped headlong into its set. Guitars are fast, songs are sweeping, and rock is happening all over the place. Drummer Mike Peihl plays a small kit of monster drums. His snare sounds like his rack tom, and both are miniature versions of his giant muraled kick drum. He pounds the hell out of them, each one providing a deep booming resonance. While the mood of each song varies, the climbing and souring guitars are constant. This dense, sweeping sound is reminiscent of Collective Soul or maybe even The Foo Fighters. Sure Reverse is more aggressive, and it may pack a bigger punch than those bands, but Reverse is still melodic rock at its core. When the band moved away from that foundation, the results were mixed. The slow, Sabbath-inspired riff that dominates "Permission" worked well, and the band had similar success with choruses defined by sudden bursts of crunching, heavy, Clutch-like guitar. However, the band's full sound floundered listlessly during the songs that leaned too heavily on punk's simplicity. I ultimately had a hard time figuring out what Reverser was all about, and I think this incarnation of the band has yet to figure that out for itself.

While Reverse removed its gear, and the members of Harris began their set up, the audience made itself known. What had been a full club became a blockage in front of the stage – a very vocal and drunken blockage. Before the band had played a note, cheers went up several times, fans screamed for their favourite (ancient) songs, and one fan continually groaned out the band's URL. An awfully rowdy crowd for some indie rockers.

Harris has been around more years than its members care to remember, but just recently has the band found its sound and niche in the local scene. A transitional EP two years ago straddled the line between the band's pop-punk beginnings and its current incarnation as…well, we'll get into that later.

The quintet of Harris is built from disparate sources. And while each member contributes to a whole sound, not all members contribute to a song: sometimes instrumentation exists outside of the song structure. In particular, the guitar of Jon Day seldom takes on a rhythm role. His guitar winds and turns upon itself in ways that recall the progressive rock of Yes or King Crimson. Keyboardist Jim Reed plays a similar role as his plinks and plunks on a vintage synth seem to be merely extraneous flavouring. Reed, like Day, does spin his instrument into the fold on occasion, often ending up with a song's melodic lead. The band's new material has erased all traces of the straightforward, emotive pop-punk of the its beginnings, leaving only a disjointed core of lurching indie rock compositions. While songs are complex, they never veer too far from recognizable song structures, and hooks aren't lost. This is far from mathrock or post rock.

Despite the early calls for fan favourites, Harris stuck to its guns and played only the twelve songs from the new album (though in a somewhat different order). While I recognized songs such as "Like Origami" and epic closer "Captain" from previous live shows, some members of the audience knew all the words to all the songs. I thought this was the album release. Well not quite, it was the album release party – the album has actually been available for a month through the band's website.

After seeing Harris perform countless times, I expected the opening burst of unsustainable energy, but it never came. Instead the band was consistently upbeat during the entire show without the natch hardcore moments that used to find their way into each song and performance. There was still excitement as guitarist Matt Scott stomped, hopped, jumped and twitched about the stage while Day spun about quickly with his guitar careening towards the audience and, often, towards his own head. Vocalist/bassist Mike Nastri was relaxed, in control, and a little humbled by the sold out crowd. The evening ended with new finale "Captain" – a nine-minute epic of Slint-styled mood, Death Cab intimacy, and Harris' own sonic eruptions. The song closes with an a cappella refrain that was sung by the audience to a grinning, appreciative Nastri. I was appreciative too, not only for the music and the diversion, but because the band had offered me a ride home, thus saving me from more rain.