Lvl Up returns to Boston with a tightly honed indie rock performance and plenty of laughs.

10/5/2017 – Middle East Upstairs

The jokes and gossip circulated around the Middle East upstairs stage all night: is LVL UP really America’s next great boy band? The fuzzy lo-fi rockers, still riding high on the success of their 2016 Sub Pop debut Return to Love, put the rumor to bed as soon as their set started: they are a great up-and-coming band (boy band comparisons left to interpretation).

The evening began with sets from local favorites Littlefoot and the stunning Loone, who mentioned that LVL UP had recently been referred to as the next great boy band, a grandiose misnomer to anyone familiar with the group’s scrappy performances. During the stage changeover, LVL UP guitarist Dave Benton announced sheepishly from the stage that someone named Reuben had left their driver’s license in the Middle East bathroom. Despite several requests from the stage from Benton, the license went unclaimed, leading to a recurring joke throughout the set. Who was Reuben? Where did he go? Will he get his license back before it’s too late? The jokes and stage banter set the mood for the rest of the night.

LVL UP began their set with a deceptive version of Return to Love opener, “Hidden Driver.” At first the song started with slow, clean guitars, making it almost unrecognizable from the album version until Benton sang the song’s opening line. The rest of the band then kicked in with the familiar fuzz and driving drumbeat, the crowd erupting in response.

LVL UP rearranged familiar tunes throughout the set, particularly on the songs off of Return to Love. The most notable was guitarist Mike Caridi’s spotlight song, “Pain.” During the bridge, when Caridi crooned about wanting to exact violent revenge on the person who hurt a loved one, the rest of the band became whisper quiet so that the vengeful lyrics were clearly heard. In a rare example of lyrics being more intelligible and obvious live than on record, this technique helped establish the duality between the dark lyrical content and the triumphant, almost uplifting tone of the music.

Between the smart rearrangements and confident stage banter it seems like LVL UP has really developed a more professional presence during their shows. The years of constant touring clearly allowed the young musicians to hone their craft. This is a different sounding band than the one that used to grind away in Brooklyn basement shows. The crowd, seemingly well versed in the LVL UP catalog, applauded and cheered during the opening chords of practically every song, even the songs from the band’s more formative years. With tight drum fills and explosive guitar freak out moments (eventually causing Caridi to break a string and borrow a guitar for the rest of the set) there were many wonderfully unpredictable moments from each of the band members’ performances.

By the end of the final song, “The Closing Door,” both band and audience were worked into a frenzy for the cacophonous bridge section that was far more powerful and compelling than on record. Everyone in the audience walked away knowing that LVL UP may in fact be America’s next best boy band. If only Reuben had stuck around to hear it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.