Concert review and set list: Motion City Soundtrack kills with sweetness at the Firebird, Thursday, June 21
Introducing themselves as the Motion City Clay People (a friendly poke at opening band the Henry Clay People), Motion City Soundtrack didn’t waste any time getting the beyond-capacity Firebird to bounce, sing and make the floors wobble.
I’m a sucker for pop punk. The sweeter the better. Dentists have warned against this molar-melting pop music. But I can’t help myself with Motion City Soundtrack. Once I get started on the band, I just can’t stop. So as you can imagine catching them Thursday night at the Firebird was a treat, one that didn’t rot the ol’ choppers. But enough about my dental hang-ups and more about this dynamic show.
Taking the stage the band staggered into “Circuits and Wires,” the opening track to their new album, “Go.” Right off the bat lead singer and guitarist Justin Pierre forgot a little more than a line or two in the first verse. He quickly regained his composure and chuckled it off. Surprisingly, the band ran through a handful of selections from their back catalog (or “old school” if you’re so inclined) like the lively “A Lifeless Ordinary,” “Point of Extinction” and “Perfect Teeth.” The older songs definitely got uproarious reactions.
And during all these songs, new, old, amazing, indifferent, keyboardist Jesse Johnson literally hopped, heaved and wallowed all over the keys and synths while singing every lyric without a mic and acting as a hype man. Giving Flavor Flav a run for his gold watch medallion, this dude gave 110%. And then some.
As he slapped hi-fives and hung from the rafters, one couldn’t help but to appreciate and reciprocate his enthusiasm. And if that wasn’t enough, he made those dirty, filthy, disgusting sounds on that incredible Moog. Emanating spacey bleeps and boops (“Attractive Today”) and happy-go-lucky leads (“True Romance”) throughout bits and pieces of the set, Johnson even attacked a cowbell at one point earning him the status of the secret ingredient of Motion City Soundtrack, like the diced walnuts in your mom’s chicken salad.
Motion City Soundtrack albums tend to be very involved listens. Plenty of Moog squeals, backing vocals, complicated drum patterns and battling guitars neatly litter their recordings. And Justin Pierre’s constantly cracking falsetto vocals are delicate and precise, and that’s a tough element to translate in a live rock show. He sounded good, but a lot of his vocal nuances got lost in the mix.
That didn’t seemed to have mattered much as the crowd chimed in on damn near every big hook. But what intricacies might have been missing last night, the band made up for with sheer exuberance and energy. While singing, Justin Pierre would often fuss with his super nerd-afro and wipe the sweat off his face or just blatantly clean his black-rimmed glasses. Pierre was hyperactive and hilarious between songs, claiming he downed a Red Bull before the show (something he’s not prone to doing); one might be safe to assume he watches the directors cuts and commentary of ’90s sci-fi films and can talk intelligently about any given topic. He was positive and happy as hell to be playing for a crowd that came out to watch him and his band.
Despite his front-man position, it was two of his bandmates who were most off the cuff, as well as the chain, last night. As previously mentioned Jesse Johnson on the keys deserves a star, but drummer Tony Thaxton tore the joint down. Thaxton is like a pop-punk John Bonham. He had an chest-shattering bass drum and banged the shit out the skins in the vein of Dave Grohl circa 1991. To put it bluntly there’d be no rock to Motion City Soundtrack’s music without Thaxton behind the kit.
His work throughout the more rock-oriented — a la the older material, for example “Time Turned Fragile” — was awe inspiring and as intense as the final scene in “The Terminator.” I was partial towards the couple of songs they performed from 2005′s “Commit This to Memory” when the band’s ingredients of synthesizers, pop culture and self-deprecation, melodic vocals and Archers-of-Loaf guitar punishments seemed to thicken and coagulate. These songs, along with a couple from their 2003 debut “I Am the Movie,” sound as fresh now as they did several years back. The band clearly loves to perform these songs and the fans loose it.
For some it might be easy to dismiss Motion City Soundtrack as just another pop-punk band rehashing the adorable snarls of Weezer, Blink 182 or Green Day, but to me, they are so much more. I am more apt to draw comparisons to Guided by Voices. Yeah. Yeah. I know that’s bold. But I’m serious.
Last night, Motion City Soundtrack’s phenomenal pop songs were performed with gusto. If there were any dull moments with this dynamic band last night, they were concealed by the affable chatter of front man Pierre and that crazy ‘do of his. But there were few of those.
Circuits and Wires
A Life Less Ordinary (Need a Little Help)
Point of Extinction
Son of a Gun
Time Turned Fragile
This is for Real
Her Words Destroyed my Planet
Everything Is Alright
The Future Freaks Me Out