4/18/15 – Church Boston

Last time we saw local band Airacuda, they were jamming out in the dead of winter at a venue that featured a Starbucks bigger than the stage. Between the mob of Northeastern students tuning out the noise to study and an entrance marked by an impossible-to-find koi pond, the whole show at Northeastern AfterHours was just peculiar.

Cut to last week at the legendary independent rock venue, Church, where Airacuda supported Boston pop-rock group Drunken Logic for their album release show. For a chilly spring Saturday, the club was barely half full. But that wouldn’t stop either band from pumping out tight, energy-filled sets complete with expertly performed cover songs.

It was immediately evident that Airacuda had some new tricks up their sleeves for the night’s performance. At the Northeastern show, the band featured a basic four-member rock lineup that showed off their minimalist chops instead of building the grand, bluesy rock sound they’re known for on recordings. This time around, Roland Greco took over on the drum set for Andrew Ho, who manned an arsenal of auxiliary percussion instruments. Frontman Matt Menges passed rhythm guitar duties over to Phil Marphlak and, as a welcome change, focused on the mic and keys instead.

Injecting tenacious energy into the set, he danced and gestured wildly, undoing a button on his shirt at the end of every song. Following their fearless lead singer, the rest of the group jammed through a supremely tight night of classic rock, modern indie, blues, and even a touch of Motown in Menges’ velvety vocals. “Nightlife” was once again a highlight, with a reworked intro featuring a shaker and some improv scat from the frontman and some synthy blips emitting from guitarist Matt Fernicola’s pedal board. The jazzy tune built slowly to an infectious funk chorus with spot on backup vocals by bass player Eddie Ruddick.

With a brand new EP set to be released this summer, Airacuda previewed two new tracks at Church, the first being “Out of Your Head,” an uptempo tune full of distorted blues guitar licks and rowdy gang vocals. The recorded version of this song could be the band’s best effort to date. With a more complex layering of chords and a grittier edge, it’s clear Airacuda is still on their way upwards.

Their cover of The Strokes hit “Reptilia” not only got the crowd revved up, but also led to Menges bounding off stage to sing amongst the concertgoers. While the band searched through the blinding stage lights for their lead singer, soon enough he reappeared leaping on top of the pool table near the bar.

Originally hailing from New Jersey, Airacuda sadly announced at the end of the show (with a disappointed “awww” from the crowd) that they would be moving their base of operations back home this summer, away from Boston and Berklee. Check them out while you still can: May 21 Mick Morgan’s and May 23 at Thunder Road in Somerville.

It was hard to follow up Menges nearly-shirtless pool table dancing, but Drunken Logic confidently took the stage to rip through their newly released sophomore full-length A Long Day’s Journey to the Middle. Self-described as “arena folk-punk,” Berklee-educated Drunken Logic is equal parts Elton John and Green Day. They might not have the distortion turned all the way up, but the punk rock influence is certainly present in lead singer/keys player Jake Cassman’s brutally honest, pensive lyrics.

If You Only Knew” kickstarted the show with a subdued intro that established Cassman’s theatrical, storytelling style of delivery. The beginning built up into a flurry of tapping guitar and rich piano chords to supplement, and the rest of the show followed with plenty of impressive arrangements and thoughtful compositional choices.

The first single off of A Long Day’s Journey, “(The Good News is) Nobody Gives A Damn,” was another high note, with a reggae-like upstroke on the mandolin and the evocative lyrical hook, “Stole one hundred bucks the other day / No one noticed it was gone,” an opening line that begs a whole lot of questions. In these moments of suspense and question Cassman is at his very best, crafting complex lyrical narratives with surprisingly catchy results.

After playing side one from the new album, Drunken Logic busted out a few old fan favorites, hurled some free T-shirts at the crowd, and moved onto an unexpected but solid cover of Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light.”

Side two was not quite as attention grabbing, but tracks like “Real Ppl” and “Dry Run Road” demonstrated the versatility of Drunken Logic as a full band. Multi-instrumentalist Ryan Jordan rotated through electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, and piano.

The pinnacle of the night was the somber “Gray,” which featured Cassman and female vocalist Rocio del Mar gorgeously trading melodic blows, eventually merging into interweaving harmonies. Cassman’s vocals couldn’t quite keep up with del Mar’s impassioned belting. Throughout the night his delivery was supremely crisp and clean, fit for a musical. Most of the time this made the messages more powerful and clear, but there were moments when Cassman’s voice seemed too clean cut and out of place. A few growls or snarls might have added a bit more character and aggression to the often unreserved lyrical content.

Piano-heavy pop-rock might not be lining the Top 40 charts like in the days of Elton John and Billy Joel, but bands like Drunken Logic undoubtedly prove that their modern interpretation and relatable lyrics are worth exploring.

Dancing On the Pool Table: Drunken Logic & Airacuda
Pros
  • Two creative, original local bands who are on the rise
  • Cassman and Menges are two very different frontmen, but both had a dominating stage presence that pumped up the crowd
  • Shout out to Airacuda's reworked lineup and new songs
Cons
  • Both bands could be a little tighter at times, but no major complaints
  • Even with solid energy from bands, crowd didn't seem completely won over by either
8.2Pool Table Party

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