Concert review: Pomegranates, Volcanoes and Men Working in Trees take over the Firebird, Wednesday, January 18

Wednesday night at the Firebird was similar to the recent wave of awesome weather days this winter in St. Louis. I went into the Pomegranates-headlined show knowing their set was sure to leave me smiling and bouncing a bit the next day.

What hit me like a 63 degree day in January was the sheer energy of opening act Volcanoes, a St. Louis buzz band and newest Afternoon Records signee. The bass, drums and sometimes synthesizer-welding duo of Jon Ryan and Eric Peters exuded a sweaty, post-punk weirdness that lived up to the hype. Their set felt like an indie dance rock song run through an electronic grinder, sending pieces of screaming vocals and peaking bass riffs all over the place. Volcanoes first song “Omnivore” was loud, fast and aggressive — everything a punk song should be. Peter’s vocals fell somewhere between screaming and talking, complemented by delightfully dark lyrics.

“The Creature” showcased Ryan’s thick fuzzed bass lines with Peter’s frantic snare fills, recalling the attitude of French band Death From Above 1979. Third song “And Then We Destroyed Each Other” killed it with hard-hitting pauses and skittering hi-hat hits, causing some of Volcanoes highly-energized fans to hardcore two-step in the punk tradition.

Midway through the set, Ryan took to the drums while Peters manned the MicroKorg. The second half of the set found Volcanoes performing less screamy dance numbers but nonetheless still intense. Volcanoes asked the crowd to “pretend we’re way cooler than we are” before launching into a gritty cover of St. Louis band So Many Dynamo’s “Progress.” Set closer “With Black Gloves” was haunting like an ’80s B-Side horror flick, blurring the lines between noise and rock ‘n’ roll.

While the Firebird is an excellent venue, Volcanoes shows find full effect in basements or small rooms. I feel like the best way to take in their sound is being in the midst of a pushing crowd and no stage to separate the band from the audience. I’m definitely anticipating the re-release of their debut full length “Heavy Hands” on Afternoon Records later this month.

Men Working in Trees, another St. Louis local, performed jangly indie rock with more subdued vocals akin to Real Estate. The band’s strong suit came from the guitar and bass interplay. Subtly catchy, Men Working in Trees stayed right under the surface with light distortion and guitar noodling. The band’s brand of moody indie rock smoothly bridged the heaviness of Volcanoes and the dreamy pop of Pomegranates.

Afternoon Records label mates and Cincinnati natives Pomegranates opened with a new song from their upcoming “Heaven” album. While more straight forward than past tunes, Pomegranates’ new tracks maintained their signature sound. Their happy dance beats and fast-delayed guitars possessed a certain maturity, surely reached by playing together for over five years. Next up was “50′s” off 2009′s “One of Us.” Last night, even Pomegranates songs from previous albums felt tighter while still allowing moments of ambiance and slow, dreaming vocals to breathe.

The title track from “One of Us” followed with quick busy riffs that moved the audience through the clouds with an almost scientific precision by the band. They played the whole night with smiles on their faces; their jaunty energy made it hard not to smile along. Performing several more songs from their upcoming album, Pomegranates seemed to function as more of body than individuals. The band bounced about with three-part harmonies, alternating between showcasing the at times choir-like croons of Joey Cook and the more anthem-ready voice of Isaac Karns. Judging from new songs like “Heaven” and “Last Lives” Pomegranates next release could easily be their most explosive and ethereal album yet.

The audience really added to the experience, pre-empting the lines of “Everybody Come Outside” with sing-along shouts. Half of the room never stopped dancing and pouring out the words from every Pomegranates tune from their three-album back catalog. Part of the overall allure of the band came from its lyrical content, spilling over with declarations of love and reminiscing of good times. While sentimental, the sung lines came across as believable as well as enjoyable. Encore song “Appreciations” off of 2008′s “Everything is Alive” drew the night to a smooth, moody close.