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Concert Review: Cymbals Eat Guitars, Hooray for Earth, and Beige

There’s comedic potential to three New York City-based bands making the drive up 95 to play a show at the Brighton Music Hall in Allston, but from what I could tell, the groups did not cram into a single van, mock Red Sox fans for the team’s recent slide, or bring enough thin-crust pizza for the entire audience. Instead, we got the bummed-out club music of Beige, the hodge-podge of contemporary synth-pop and retro styles from Hooray for Earth, and the melodic indie rock of Cymbals Eat Guitars in a reasonable compromise.

Words of advice for opening act Beige: Change your band name. This was your first show outside of New York City and you haven’t released any official recordings, so it’s not too late. If you need further encouragement, perhaps the YouTube presence of Beiges from Malta and Hamburg will make you reconsider this terrible decision. Maybe your peers in Brooklyn are all supportive of your chosen title, but I am doing you the solid of saying that the vast majority of critics will not be so generous. Your band name is an unnecessary hurdle, an invitation to either tune you out or chew you out. Would you name your first album Forgettable at Best, Future Coaster, or Poor, Even in This Economy? Why am I asking that, of course you would—you named your band Beige. Unless you’re war criminals hiding from the public eye, there’s no logical reason to sabotage your music with this name. If you’d named your band almost anything else, I would have spent this paragraph talking about your actual music, like how the combination of throbbing beats, delay-heavy keyboard and guitars, and muffled vocals made for some intriguingly sad club music. I would have compared you fondly to early Accelera Deck, you know, before Chris Jeely fell in love with glitch. I would have made substantial comments about the promise of your band. But alas, you named your band Beige.

Deep breath, buddy. Deep breath. Onto the next act.

Hooray for Earth live at the Brighton Music Hall

Hooray for Earth started out as a Boston band in 2005, but changed zip codes when songwriter Noel Heroux moved to New York in 2007 to join his girlfriend, Jessica Zambri (whose own band, the appropriately named Zambri, also features her sister). The project was essentially on hold until 2009, however, when the original drummer was replaced by Joseph Ciampini and the group started recording again, producing the 2010 Momo EP and this year’s True Loves LP. All of this background information is pertinent—the group echoes the trends coming out of Williamsburg, Zambri’s background vocals are prominent on record and live, Ciampini’s drumming is a welcome departure from programmed loops, and that distant, perhaps forgotten history shows its face from time to time. Their sound hits on three major buttons: reverb-draped synth-pop, ’80s party rock, and ’90s alternative. Given my rockist tendencies, the ’90s alternative side had potential, but it fell oddly flat. Zambri wandered off stage for those songs, leaving behind a traditional three-piece rock group that I suspect will be ushered out as new material accumulates. The ’80s party rock fared better—“Sails” splits the difference between Duran Duran and MGMT—but plays more to Zambri’s strengths as a vocalist than Heroux’s. Hooray for Earth excelled with the current-sounding synth-pop, namely “True Loves” and the set-closing “Black Trees.” That’s where the value of Ciampini as a live drummer was most obvious: substitute in a drum machine and those songs float away completely. There may be a surplus of Brooklyn bands mining the retro-modern ache of “Black Trees” (collaborators Twin Shadow, for one), but if Hooray for Earth follows that path on their next album—and records it as soon as humanly possible—they will headline their next tour.

Cymbals Eat Guitars live at the Brighton Music Hall

Tuesday’s headliners Cymbals Eat Guitars (Flickr set here) have come into their own this year on their sophomore album, Lenses Alien, released digitally through Barsuk in August. Its predecessor, 2009’s Why There Are Mountains, arrived with on-point comparisons to Pavement, Pixies, Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, and Sonic Youth, but Lenses Alien pays off those debts with a stronger, more confident sense of self. Guitarist/vocalist Joseph D’Agostino’s lyrics carve elliptical paths through oblique poetry, coming closer to Tim Kinsella of Joan of Arc / Owls than the aforementioned acts. These lyrics prove difficult to parse live, but every other detail of Lenses Alien translates: D’Agostino’s melodic delivery, backing vocals from bassist Matt Whipple, and busy piano/keyboard and wispy noise from keyboardist Brian Hamilton.

Cymbals Eat Guitars live at the Brighton Music Hall

The highlight and litmus test of Cymbals Eat Guitars’ set is “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name),” Lenses Alien’s epic eight-and-a-half minute opener and one of the year’s best rock songs. The strains of ’90s indie rock feature some of the group’s catchiest hooks, but the song excels when those strains fall apart like a late ’90s Lee Ranaldo composition. (There’s nothing wrong with cribbing notes from Sonic Youth when they’re the right notes.) Those noise passages may have thinned out the crowd, but D’Agostino and Hamilton were openly joyous as they tweaked pedals and harnessed feedback.

Cymbals Eat Guitars didn’t bother stepping off stage before playing their encore, Lenses Alien’s excellent closer “Gary Condit.” Joseph D’Agostino apologized that physical copies of their new album aren’t yet available, then bolted to the merch table to sell shirts and talk to fans. It was an outright endearing end to the evening, even if it meant that I have to wait until October 11 for a vinyl copy of Lenses Alien. Don't let that stop you from catching them on this tour.

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