The most striking thing about Free Energy — besides their pitch-perfect power pop — is that they do it all without a hint of irony. It might be tempting to rough up all those Day-Glo riffs, harmonized guitar solos and sing-along choruses with a wink and a nod — just to let the hipsters know that there’s a Pavement record under all those hooks. But that would be too easy, and not nearly as much fun.
All of which may go some way to explain why SPIN named the Philly quintet one of the 10 Artists to Watch in 2010, and why everyone had such a damn good time last night at the band’s SPINhouse Live show, presented by Amstel Light. Rain may have prevented the festivities from taking place on SPIN’s Manhattan rooftop, forcing the show indoors. But the band wasn’t the type to complain — and neither was the crowd, both in-house and online via live webcast.
Produced by LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy and released on his hot-shit label DFA, Stuck on Nothing, Free Energy’s stellar debut, is a heady blend of bubblegum pop and classic rock nostalgia. It’s no dance record, DFA or not. But like any of the label’s releases, it’s certainly danceable. (In fact, the drum kit Free Energy used for the recording was the exact same one used for LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver.)
Live, the band’s tunes lost none of their swaggering, snot-nosed charm. “Free Energy” was a stunning opener, with super-skinny frontman Paul Spranger doing his best Jonathan Richman impression and dueling guitarists Geoff Bucknam and Scott Wells (the latter with a giant feather stuck on the end of his six-string) doing their best Thin Lizzy.
The following “C’mon Let’s Dance,” a brand-new track that added a touch of the Strokes to Free Energy’s wide-eyed classicism, had the boys jumping around the conference-room stage — a blast of fuzzy leads and shaggy hair. Wells’ beer wobbled precariously on top of his amp, but his mind was on other things. “C’mon, don’t wait too long,” Spranger pleaded. “Let’s dance / Don’t miss your chance.”
The remaining four songs, all pulled from Free Energy’s debut, didn’t quite match the heights of that opening one-two punch, but they came pretty darn close. Nicholas Shuminsky — he of the giant moustache and curly black hair — was a caveman behind the kit. “Hope Child” and “Dream City” may not have required much, but he still pounded the hell out of those 4/4 rhythms. And for his part, Wells pulled out a few massive Big Muff solos on the triumphant “All I Know.”
“Bang Pop” — possibility the catchiest tune on an already hook-saturated record (imagine Joey Ramone singing over the theme song from That ’70s Show) — was a jubilantly sloppy end to a near-perfect evening. If only it had gone on longer. “Bang pop / Where does the moment stop?” Spranger wondered, his long brown hair making him look like Evan Dando circa 1992. If only it wouldn’t.
“C’mon Let’s Dance”
“All I Know”