Saturday, Dec. 15
Fitting a holiday music show, joy was prevalent inside the sold-out Midland theater Saturday night.
The second night of the three-night “The Buzz Stole XXMas” featured five bands and more than five and a half hours of music. And on a weekend when it was most needed, what was rendered was the kind of primal bliss that only music can deliver.
Grouplove is 2 years old and has only one full-length to draw from, the ebullient and self-referentially titled “Never Trust a Happy Song.” They opened with its lead track, the manic “Itchin’ On a Photograph,” a giddy detonation of melody, rhythm, percussion and harmonies. When the opener feels like the finale, you know you’re in for a free-wheeling ride. And so it went, song after song: “Naked Kids,” “Tongue Tied,” “Colours,” “Chloe” and the sweet, frenetic “Spun,” a high-speed, sing-song whirlwind of guitars, drums, mandolin and vocal embroidery. The band itself generates lots of energy. Hannah Hooper, vocalist and keyboardist, bounces and spins like a teenager who just kissed her first crush.
Grouplove followed a set by Of Monsters and Men that was nearly as jovial. The five-piece band from Iceland also indulges in a high-octane mix of folk, pop and rock arranged with guitars, keyboards, drums, accordion, brass. Anthems like the trumpet-fed “Little Talks” got the crowd involved -- fists pumps and a hearty “hey!” in unison, at the right time. So did “Dirty Paws,” “Skeletons” (a Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover) and “Mountain Time,” which ignited a tide of hand-clapping and singing-along. At times, resistance was futile, even to the cynical and seen-it-alls.
That set followed a dynamic performance by the Joy Formidable, a Welch trio led by Ritzy Bryan, a guitar-wielding dervish of a lead singer of a band many of the nearly 3,000 in attendance wanted to see most.. Looks can be deceiving. She may be small but her stage presence is mighty. During “Whirring” she hopped into the crowd and let the fans in front have their way with her guitar, which unleashed a storm of virulent noise. Joy Formidable traffics in a sound that is heavier, more soaring, spacey and textured, yet it is shimmery and melodic and elicits similar moods. Its set included “I Don’t Wanna See You Like This,” “Cradle” and a new one called “Cholla.” The joy they produced wasn’t necessarily formidable, but it was inherent and, at times, irresistible.
| Timothy Finn, The Star
Sunday, Dec. 16
Sunday night’s episode of the Night The Buzz Stole XXXMas was a coming-out for at least one band and an introduction to another.
Passion Pit was the headliner for the third night of the three-night music feast at the Midland theater, sponsored buy the radio station known as the Buzz, KRBZ (96.5 FM). But the real buzz band was the one who preceded the headliner, a trio from Leeds, England, called Alt-J. This evening, however, the band was missing a man, guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury, who was ill. His absence affected more than the band’s sound, which is a textured, ambient blend of several flavors of music (folk, pop, rock) rendered in guitars, keyboards and drums. As a trio, the band managed to re-create the fundamental sounds from its debut album, “An Awesome Wave,” released earlier this year. But apparently the opportunities were limited. Thus, its set lasted barely 35 minutes.
Much of the sold-out crowd gave most of it some rapt attention and raucous responses. But attentions waned here and there, as in during a new song called “Buffalo.” But album cuts like “Tessellate,” “Dissolve Me.” and “Fitzpleasure” were well-received. So were “Matilda,” a love-hymn, and “Breezeblocks,” the closer. As first impressions go, this one was mixed. The band could use more stage presence/personality, but for working through what was no minor deficiency, it earned some respect.
Blondfire, a four-piece from New York featuring lead singer Erica Driscoll and her brother Bruce Driscoll, preceded Alt-J and also delivered a strikingly short set: less than 30 minutes. It has been around for several years, but this was the inaugural appearance for many in the crowd, which gave the band some cheerful support. Its sound is well-crafted pop music with some ‘80s influences. It also resembles bands of other eras, like the Sundays, Coldplay and Metric. Its set included a new track called “Kites” and the popular title track off its “Where the Kids Are” EP, released this year.
For Passion Pit, the theater wasn’t as full as it was for Alt-J, but it was as loud and rowdy as it would get all night. The five-piece electronic-pop band from Boston is led by lead singer Michael Angelakos, a man in constant motion when he isn’t sitting at his keyboards. Angelakos’ voice, which vaults into a skyscraping falsetto frequently, is an acquired taste or at least it takes some getting used to. It was one component of a bright, propulsive and manic set, fueled by multiple keyboards, that exceeded 75 minutes and ignited some dancing and singing several times.
The setlist pulled tracks from the band’s two full-length albums, including “Gossamer,” released in July. Songs like the buoyant “Carried Away” and the pop-anthems :Take A Walk” and “Love Is Greed” were well-received. The slow-burn R&B/soul ballad “Constant Conversation,” however, was the one dead moment in an otherwise high-energy set. As a vocalist, Angelakos is no Daryl Hall. But the tracks pulled form “Gossamer,” the band’s first full-length, released in 2009. More than three years later, songs like “The Reeling,” “Folds in Your Hands,” “Let Your Love Grow Tall” and “Sleepyhead” still resonate, still push a crowd into a state of bemused elation. Maybe it wasn’t the band some people most wanted to see on a cold Sunday night, but Passion Pit was the one many stayed for, almost into Monday morning, and the one that delivered the longest, most invigorating set.
| Timothy Finn, The Star