Taking the stage just after 11 p.m., the Philadelphia-based group came out excited and ready to play. Only four shows into their tour, the exhaustion hasn't taken hold yet and the miscues fade to the back replaced by muscle memory. Showcasing the majority of songs from their James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) produced debut Stuck On Nothing(dfa, 2010), the band mixed in new songs from its next album with a couple of covers to round out the improvised set list. Guitarist Scott Wells smiled as he advised the audience, "We had a setlist but we're not writing essay playing it."
The band opened with the single "Bang Pop." Getting the smallish crowd of teenagers to 40-year-olds moving and shaking for a little over an hour took little enticing. Sporting an old-school looking Mizzou shirt and ripped kneed jeans, singer Paul Sprangers played his role of front man, singer and band cheerleader well. After over-exciting the fans close to the stage on the T-Rex riffage of "Dream City," he divulged that it was the "first time someone has tried to pummel my sac during that song -- I will always remember this show." A couple of songs later, Sprangers exclaimed, "Great cross section of people here and a dude doing crazy dance moves -- a 'perfect show.'"
Reaching into their previous Pavement-influenced venture, Hockey Night, Sprangers projected more of a nasal voice live than on the recorded work. Moving fluidly about the stage he danced, got fans engaged, shook the tambourine and even -- in a move I've never seen before -- enthusiastically high-fived hard-hitting drummer Nicholas Shuminsky a couple of times.
Sprangers and Wells clearly enjoy the classic rock vibe, writing hooky '70s rock resulting in danceable tunes with bouncy, melodic bass lines and sunny sing-a -long pop lyrics. Their image is, however, based upon posters, movies and pictures of the era. The clichés abound with sleeveless shirts, long hair, dueling guitar solos and finger pointing toward the audience. "Almost Famous" and "Dazed and Confused" are on heavy rotation in the DVD player.
Calling for covers three quarters of the way through the set, the crowd bullied the band into playing the Tom Petty classic "I Won't Back Down" after which Sprangers dubbed the show "life lessons." He didn't explain himself; the title was open to interpretation.
Toward the end of the set the band lost the momentum a bit as working without a set list caught up to them. After a conference to play their new forthcoming single "Hangin'" the crowd started to help draft their own set list. Accepting the request to play their standout namesake song, "Free Energy," another request and discussion session was held where they admitted the addition of a new touring guitar player would hold them back. However, the guitarist quickly learned his part on the spot eventually eliciting a cover of the Born In The USA-era Bruce Springsteen track, "I'm Goin' Down." Sounding a little loose here the band pulled off the cover easily. Even though Sprangers doesn't have the Boss' vocal chops, he can be credited with recreating the "Dancing in the Dark" video dance nicely.
Delicate Steve, a quintet from the Garden State, slotted in the middle last night, played its second and final show with Free Energy on this tour. Featuring the two-guitar wizardry of songwriter Steve Marion and his cohort Christian Peslak, the band adds keyboards, bass and a non-traditional drum set up. The group played a 40-minute set of spacey, electronic rock with emphasis on the long form instrumental rather than lyrical side. There's no exact science to pinpoint a band's sound, but it's safe to say that these shaggy guys have been listening to everything from Pink Floyd and Paul Simon to Yeasayer and Beirut. Though not having the chops to be a full on jam band, the tribal drums (Tom-tom, 2 floor toms, bass drum, cowbells, cymbals, but no snare) from percussionist Mike Duncan gave off that vibe.
The new air conditioning unit at the Firebird hummed efficiently, ready to cool off the audience for three plus hours of rock as St. Louis-based quartet Via Dove took the stage for an opening set. The band's rock attack complemented the overall bill nicely. Andy Shadburne's big rock vocals filled up the room as he put his degree in rock front man to good use. Unfortunately, not many got to see his Mick Jagger/Freddy Mercury-like dancing as only half the small crowd had arrived by that point. After hearing the sweet, crunchy guitar tone from Aaron Vaught we'll forgive his adrenaline rush during the behind-the-back guitar move late in the set. Mixing in a cover of the Beatles' classic hard rocker "Helter Skelter" mid set between their original songs, instead of leaving it for the end, felt out of place, but not unwelcome.
Free Energy setlist:
Get Ready (new song)
I Won't Back Down (Tom Petty cover)
Hangin' (new song)Free Energy
I'm Goin' Down (Bruce Springsteen cover)