Junior Boys’ recent stint in D.C. appeared to be more of a three-band concert rather than a headliner with two openers, as many of the attendees had refreshingly come for the first two bands.
The first band to hit the stage was Youth Group. Although at first glance the lead singer appeared to be sporting the lead singer of Wolfmother’s curly blonde afro, the only similarity that the two Australian bands share is hair-related. Youth Group presented an interesting combination of the stylistic sensibilities of Death Cab for Cutie and Oasis, combining the emotional tones of the former with the major chord patterns of the latter. The band had an interesting control of dynamics uncharacteristic of its genre and were hardly shy of venturing into Mogwai-styled noisiness.
The second band to play, Aqueduct, wasn’t quite as up-to-snuff. To give it credit, you really can’t beat the fabulous opening song, in which the lyrics are primarily made up of “Hello, Washington D.C.! We are Aqueduct!” and similar silliness. The few songs that followed showed a comparable level of wacky inspiration, but the well apparently went dry as the set turned to increasingly bland material and an overreliance on prerecorded synth lines. Uninteresting music’s worst enemy is mediocre lyrics and unfortunately in this case, they were awkward and shiver-down-your back awful.
Despite a bit of a bump in the road, Junior Boys saved the night by astounding the audience in the subtlest way possible. The Canadian electronica duo broke out of relative obscurity in 2004 with its “Last Exit” LP, which presents a distinctly Canadian take on Depeche Mode-style synth pop. The record is successful in combining both modern and vintage aesthetics, forging a sound that is both articulate and deliberate in its expression. Johnny Dark’s drum machine beats on the record are ornate but refined and only present when absolutely necessary. Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jeremy Greenspan uses combinations of bass/guitar and synth to create beautiful atmospheres that compliment Dark’s rhythms perfectly.
After Johnny Dark was replaced by electronic engineer Matt Didemus, the band released last year’s “So This Is Goodbye.” Although its new album wasn’t quite as fabulous as the first, its rave reviews propelled the group into semi-indie stardom. To exemplify how far this band has come, its last tour through D.C. last fall landed the band at the small Iota coffeehouse in Arlington. This time around, however, Junior Boys played to a sold out crowd at the Black Cat, which holds substantially more people than Iota.
Junior Boys proves its recent hype warranted, beginning the night by mesmerizing the crowd with the reverb-y hypnotics of “Count Souvenirs” from “So This Is Goodbye.” Instead of forcing excitement onto the audience by starting the set with the band’s more upbeat material, the set continued with more of the band’s beat oriented yet not necessarily danceable songs, such as “Teach Me How To Fight” and “Like a Child.”
This was a brilliant tactic, as by the end of the evening the audience had started to lose itself in the music, which resulted in a great deal of dancing to Junior Boys’ more danceable songs, such as “In the Morning” and “Double Shadow.” The band left the crowd desperately craving more with “More Than Real” and eventually gave it what it wanted with the sublime “Under the Sun.” This ended the evening nicely, since the song is entrancing and dance-provoking.
Although the band’s electronics sounded phenomenally solid in the way synthesizers should sound coming from the Black Cat’s stellar speaker system, the electronic beats that are the backbone to Junior Boys’ recorded works were performed instead by a live drummer. It wasn’t that the drums weren’t amped loud enough; it’s just that the songs were built to be supported by a beat that only an electronic drum set can adequately provide. Although the addition of a drummer made the show more interesting, it forced the songs’ rhythm to take a serious hit. This wouldn’t matter if rhythm wasn’t such a dire element in the band’s sound, but unfortunately the lack thereof forced the songs to take a serious hit.
Perhaps the inclusion of some improvisation and a second synth player rather than a live drummer would have yielded a more entertaining live show while still maintaining beats that make the Junior Boys songs as amazing as they are. Fortunately, the band still put on a stellar show and cemented the fact that it is nowhere near saying, “So This is Goodbye.”