Thursday, April 16, 2009

Live: Team Genius, Action Painters and Naked Hearts

When: 4/9
Where: Cake Shop

The Naked Hearts kicked off this pretty cool poppy indie rock line-up at Cake Shop a week ago. I wasn't wild about the Naked Hearts' recent EP, but I have to say, their live show is an improvement. Shallow as this sounds, part of the improvement may have to do with the band's off-kilter good looks, but it was also partly because they gave their songs some much-needed life.

Naked Hearts (photo from
Naked Hearts

Among the songs that improved live were "Only For You," which incorporated a far heavier, hipper beat than the recorded version. "Cat & Mouse" and "Call Me" also shone. And through out, the two-piece managed to get a good sound out of their instruments, even with an glaring lack of technique.

But despite the improvements, Naked Hearts remain nothing but average - not a bad listen but not very interesting . The guitar parts consist of arpeggiated barre chords interspersed with regular old barre chords, and the drum beats are solid but standard. The sparse melodies leave something to be desired and overall, creativity is severely wanting. [MySpace]

Action Painters are a band that knows how to generate enthusiasm. They act like rock stars, and it's surprisingly convincing. Frontman Tom Haslow seems to take cues from 90's Britrock, successfully posing like a still-young version of Oasis's Liam Gallagher or the Verve's Richard Ashcroft. And like those bands, they seem to try to get by on cool points and [possibly illusory] good looks as much on as musical merit.

But in terms of musical merit, though they just play your standard poppy indie rock, they do it pretty well. Many of their songs are unremarkable, but a few are genuinely catchy little gems.

Action Painters (photo from
Action Painters

Anyway, there's nothing wrong with having more interest in stardom than musical innovation, as long as it makes for a good rock concert. Action Painters have clearly studied their stage presence and the leading would-be eye-candy, Haslow and keyboardist Allison Zatarain, are all smiles, always engaged and definitely movin' and shakin' when not busy playing and singing. Though they may sound banal to snobs (myself included), they - without blatant gimmick - put on a hell of a show. [MySpace]

The highlight of the evening was, of course, Team Genius, who won me over last year despite encompassing almost every element I hate in pop music (saxophone, hand-clapping and too many members - for a start). But I think I like Team Genius so much because of their apparent conviction that what they are doing is great, despite the fact that they are all clearly just grown-up high school band geeks. And unlike other bands consisting of overgrown band geeks (Beirut is the obvious example), they don't seem smug. Of course, there's a real danger that as their popularity and self-awareness grows, that will change. But for now, they just don't seem to realize how completely dorky their band is, and that's what makes them way cool.

It's been a while since they released their first album, and in the interim, they've reworked some of their material, keeping it fresh for fans. The changes were almost all positive - adding more subtly brilliant pieces to the arrangements and spicing things up. (The one exception was the deflated end of the band's best tune, "Take Me Home.") They also debuted some new material slated for their sophomore album. And that was pretty much what you'd expect - well-constructed pop numbers with clever orchestration. In other words, more of the same, but even more fine-tuned and delicious.

The only downside to the new songs was that the melodies weren't as strong in delivery - hopefully lead singer Drew Hermiller was just having an off night and not trying to fabricate vocal idiosyncrasies. But all in all, it was a very enjoyable evening, the band having so much fun that their enthusiasm could be nothing but infectious. They're a perfect cheer-up band so if life's got you down, go check them out this Saturday at Public Assembly! [MySpace]

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