July 26, 2009

Remarks: Varsity Drag, Grownup Noise, Winterpills

[Our exponentially increased work and parenting responsibilities have made it so we can no longer adhere to the rigid format we actually really, really like that we've developed for album and show reviews over the years. And so we are creating a new quasi-category for items we are simply titling Remarks. -- Ed.]

Friday night's wholly satisfying Varsity Drag show at the Middle East Up held some surprises. Not the least of which was the supporting act Grownup Noise, a bunch of locals we'd never heard of who were launching or celebrating the pending launch of a national tour. The band blends the voice of Richard Buckner, the cello work from Built To Spill and indie hooks filtered through a cracking pop sense, which for some reason made us think of Paul Simon. The fronter looked to us like former Junkmedia scribe Jonathan Donaldson, but now that we think about it we don't think we've ever seen Mr. Donaldson. Anyway, we were very impressed with Grownup Noise -- right up until they bafflingly (although ably) covered House Of Pain's "Jump Around." This ruffled our feathers a fair amount, and caused us to turn to compatriot Rock P. and remark "well, this certainly took a turn." Thankfully, Grownup Noise did two more numbers, as we'd hate to have our final thoughts on their excellent performance totally colored by the shlocky cover.

Varsity Drag stepped up and delivered a hot show as well, its first as top-liner on any of the stages at Cambridge's venerable Middle East. We've seen the trio numerous times, but fronter Ben Deily (you know, he was in that band...) and cohort continue to have aces up their six sleeves. This night it was an electrifying, slightly stripped down cover of The Cure's triumphant guitar anthem "Push," a highlight of the damn-near-perfect 1985 long player The Head On The Door. The already-lean Varsity Drag didn't have enough hands to recreate the full instrumental bombast of the track, but the trio gave "Push" a rough edge that made a keen match for the song's desperate tone. The Drag are prepping a long-awaited second set of new material, and we can't help but get the sense that Friday's performance put a lot of wind in their sails. Varsity Drag were celebrating the release of a live set Rock N' Roll Is Such A Hassle -- Live In Europe, which is out now on Boss Tunage in the UK and which domestic fans can purchase digitally right here. A lot of bands have taken on The Cure's "Push" over the years; our favorite might be this rendition by the late, great Garden Variety.

Garden Variety -- "Push" -- Step On A Crack Volume 2 comp (Go-Kart Records)
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buy Garden Variety records from MusicStack.com right here
buy Garden Variety music from EMusic right here

Northampton, Mass.'s Winterpills held the second slot, the first we witnessed upon making the scene. The band's self-titled debut from 2005 holds several songs that we enjoy, but we've never been fully into the band's lighter, folksier fare. Friday's performance didn't change that, but we were pleased to hear the quintet -- which struggled with a recalcitrant keyboard and ended up re-working its set -- play the up-tempo strummer "Laughing." Our hopes of hearing "Threshing Machine" were not met, but regardless Winterpills are charming on stage and we still enjoy their peppier stuff. -- Jay Breitling

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