Monday July 7th, 2003 at TT the Bears in Cambridge, MA
Sorry About Dresden, Sgt. Peterson & The Chicago Police, Miracle of 86 & The Receiving End Of Sirens

Sorry About Dresden Sgt. Peterson & The Chicago Police Miracle of 86 The Receiving End of Sirens [more]

I’m a fan of band names that give you a clue as to their allegiances. Certainly we all knew what kind of band Skankin’ Pickle would be, and by now we’ve learned that a band name that ends with “tion” is at least a crust band, if not a full out brutal death band. Band names like “The Plot To Kill the President,” or the more topical “The Receiving End of Sirens” should also tip you off. Pop on the CD (or possibly 7”) and you’re bound to find a screamo variant honed in basements, VFW halls, and garages. With the odd exception of …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Our Dead, these bands will never find commercial success, nor did their members ever imagine they could. When you name your band “The Receiving End of Sirens” you can expect to be called “TREOS,” but you can’t expect radio to care a lick.

Boston’s The Receiving End of Sirens fits its name well. If you expected two guitars--one providing chugging hardcore and the other wirier, twisting, and metallic leads--score yourself one point. But be sure to give a point to TREOS also, as they do it well. If you thought there might be an active bass player who would occasionally get a solo, or at least a spotlight flourish, score yourself (and the band) another point. If you thought the singer would make forays into the audience, or spend a substantial portion of the show lying on the stage with the microphone cord twisted around him, give yourself a half point – that was an easy one. Give the vocalist a half point too. Finally, if you imagined backing vocalists who would provide both low-roared screams and anguished emo yelps, there’s another half point in there for you. Have you added up all your points? How’d you do? How did The Receiving End of Sirens do? Not good at math? I’ll give it a shot then.

TREOS is the enigma from 1993 – a holdover from a genre stunted and held short for whatever reason, but one that refuses to become extinct. I remember plenty of bands like this “back in the day,” and I remember liking them all, so it stands to reason that I like TREOS. They’re complicated enough to keep it interesting, primal enough to move the body to danced convulsions, passionate enough to command an audience, and earnest enough to sell it to you. If you’re not a fan of the genre, well then you won’t be a fan of this band. However, if you are a fan of bands with lots of words in their vaguely political names, then you’ll score The Receiving End of Sirens highly.

While The Miracle of 86 may have a few words in their name, they’re not the right kind of words to follow the rule introduced above. This NYC foursome is named for the 1986 NY Mets team actually – definitely not political. They’re also definitely not easily classified into a single category; oddly enough, they might be better if they could be…

In sharp contrast to the voluminous angst of TREOS, The Miracle of 86 began its set with a loping country bass line and a lazy vocal. The shock was extreme, but might have been worse if the twangly guitar of vocalist/guitarist Kevin Devine hadn’t been drowned out by the sound of miffed jaws hitting the floor. Even though I was already passively familiar with the band, I must admit to some amount of dismay. However, after that initial punch-in-the-gut, the band shifted again and the remainder of the set followed a loose pop blueprint. Was the jolt of the initial song a conscious decision to separate The Miracle of 86 from the previous set? I hope so. Gusty move: four points.

Despite first impressions, the band is generally relaxed indie with a bit of a singer/songwriter roughness about them. Although they thankfully break the monotony with acceptable bursts of energy, they often go too far; the resulting chaos seems planned if not forced. The band further confuses things when it forays into its pop-punk songs sung by guitarist Mike Robertson. Is this still the same band? Should it be? Dock an appropriate amount of points for foolish inconsistency.

Sgt. Peterson and the Chicago Police has no problem with consistency, but hold off on awarding any points. This “in sound” quartet of vocals/guitar, guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums also offers nothing new. Working within the confines established by The Anniversary (before they embraced their white-trash trucker roots), the band builds indie rock upon power-pop and accents it with synthesizer flourishes. Have we heard this band a hundreds times before? Does Vagrant have room on their line-up for another act? Take away a point from Sgt. Peterson for every band you can think of on Vagrant. Take ten points away from yourself if you can think of more than three. If you can’t think of any you’re a liar, so dock yourself something appropriately substantial.

Like the majority of the band, diminutive vocalist/guitarist Emeen Zarookian is energetic and passionate about the music he plays. An admirable and personable frontman, he worked hard to sell the band. That must be worth a few points. The small audience (maybe 100 or 150) pushed toward the stage, and although there were a few ringers present, the audience on the whole was plugged into the band. I watched curiously as bassist Patrick O’Connell jumped about the stage, tethered to his amp by a cord so short it hovered over the floor instead on resting on it. I wondered if it was more likely that he’d pull out the cord or topple his gear entirely. Incredulously, neither happened. Award safety points as you see fit.

While the band’s set was largely uneventful (so much so that I sat down to the side of the club, leaving the view to those who cared), my ears perked up for closer “This Guy (Right Here)” – a powerful new song with big hooks and giant energy. If the band is capable of more of these songs, they won’t be just another band in a tired genre; they’ll be the band that revives it. Score points for recapturing a bored audience member.

Chapel Hill’s Sorry about Dresden climbed on stage late into the evening – too late as it turned out. A good portion of the audience had already left with Sgt. Peterson, and Sorry about Dresden could do nothing to energize those who remained. In fact, the band seemed just as tired as the audience. Four rock bands on a bill is one too many. Give the band a pity point for playing last.

While the band has had considerable success purveying its hooky indie rock, on this evening it fell flat. Vocalist/guitarist Eric Roehrig crooned and strained through the band’s well-written material while second vocalist/guitarist Matt Oberst screamed the more vivacious pop-influenced numbers, but nothing seemed to click with the audience. The subtleties found on their CDs, which harkens back to a Surfer Rosa-era Pixies, were missing. Instead, their offerings were all chugging and straightforward. The music was just as tired as the band.

While, in the past, bassist Matthew Tomlich’s unbelievable jumps and boundless bounding energy could be counted on to pep up the audience, Tomlich has since left the band. And while the new bassist is certainly a suitable replacement from a purely sonic standpoint, he was positively lifeless on stage. When the foursome closed with favourite “Debt & Debris” from their debut The Mayor Will Abdicate, the band made one last push and ended on a high note (and walls of wailing noise.)

When the smoke cleared, I ensured the band had a place to stay and then hightailed it to the bus stop. Unfortunately, minutes late means an hour wait at that time of night. With time to burn, I added up the points and determined that, while there were no losers, The Receiving End of Sirens was clearly the winner. Bostonians should catch the band quickly – bands like this never stay together long. Those outside of Boston just email the band, I’m sure they’ll come play your living room for a vegan spaghetti dinner and crash space on your floor. That is the DIY ethic I’m always going to score highest.