Hot Seattle power-pop outfit Telekinesis released one of SPIN's favorite under-the-radar albums of 2009 with their self-titled debut, and are poised for their big break in 2011 with 12 Desperate Lines (out Feb. 15). But the band couldn't have been more humble or gracious onstage at their homecoming show Friday night.
"Hi, we're Telekinesis, and we live here," was how Michael Benjamin Lerner, the outfit's mastermind and frontman, sheepishly began the set at the intimate, 300-person Triple Door, their first U.S. gig since returning from a long European tour. Lerner and guitarist Cody Votolato (ex-Blood Brothers) -- appearing as a duo, instead of the usual trio -- played just ten songs, but they thanked the crowd before and after each one, and thanked headliner Bob Mould profusely for having them on his bill.
The gratitude seemed sincere, as did Lerner's dreamy power-pop songs, which were as well styled as his manners. By the third song, "Foreign Room," Lerner had won over even the hardened Husker Du fans by supersizing the chorus of raining "ooohs." It was a trick he used all night.
Each song grabbed the crowd with its chorus of choruses, and though he did complain of being jet-lagged and "fat" from their Euro tour of bread and cheese, much of the set was powerful and lean.
On "Rust," also off their eponymous debut, Votolato left the stage and Lerner let the Pet Sounds-influenced song help turn the hall into his teenage bedroom. "I've got a heart but it's afraid to love," he sang. "Sometimes I think the damn thing's full of rust / Every time it seems to skip a beat / It pumps something that I cannot call blood."
And speaking of teens, it seemed almost preordained when Lerner named-checked Teenage Fanclub before his cover of their "The Concept." Yes, he had played with them recently ("I supremely geeked out," he said), but in many ways Telekinesis just drips TF.
Heart-on-the-sleeve romanticism? Check. A propensity for wearing sweaters onstage? Check. Frontman's physical resemblance to a young rock critic-cum-memoirist Chuck Klosterman? Check.
The "Teenage Fanclub-esque" factor was most obvious when Lerner switched to drums, where he showed a flash of anger in his playing. On "50 Ways," a highlight from the upcoming Twelve Desperate Straight Line, he pounded his mini-kit so hard he soaked his cardigan in sweat. Sweet, yes, but also a bit sour, and a bit clingy, as he displayed in the bitter "I Saw Lightning." "Unplug all our phones," Lerner pleaded, asking for the ultimate modern sacrifice of technology for love.
Yet the highlight of the night, and the one song that best illustrated how Lerner's voice would be mournful even singing the phone book, was a bizarre cover.
"I got an email from my father telling me not to play this song," Lerner reported. Like any good rebellious son, he defied the parental e-mail and launched into a cover of Justin Bieber's "Baby," which he's been wont to do on recent live dates.
Lerner explained that he fell in love with the song after seeing Bieber on The Late Show with David Letterman, and he spent a few minutes defending the Bieb, which was entirely unnecessary in a short set. But once Lerner began "Baby," he moved the song from the realm of teenage bravado and into a heartsick lament.
It was a bit sappy, but it was also terribly catchy. The song was "the bee's knees" Lerner repeatedly said. And so was Telekinesis.