Playing to a sold-out Paradise, three local acts bridge the gap between Allston basements and mainstream audiences

3/29/19 – Paradise Rock Club

“This is the biggest show we’ve ever played,” said Amy Hoffman, looking out over Friday night’s early crowd at the Paradise. Her band, Future Teens, was the opener of a three-set local bill sponsored by the estimable Allston Pudding, preceding the fast-rising songwriter Sidney Gish and local rock heroes Vundabar. Staples of the basement and house show scene, they’ve been playing together for five years, so to play at Paradise was a “dream come true,” as lead singer Dan Radin explained to the crowd.

Despite a little nervousness, Future Teens’ excitement and chemistry gradually won over an initially listless crowd, specifically “What’s My Sign Again?” and the gorgeous, Julien Baker-reminiscent “DTFL”. They ripped through their opener (and biggest song to date), “In Love or Whatever”, a emo-inflected pop ballad about aging and the post-grad Bostonian dating scene. There’s a spot in the middle of song where frontman Dan quotes his date at the time (“Boston sucks—it’s so overrated”). The rest of the band adds gang vocals to this line, stretching out the melody, and when the song continues, he knows it’s not going to work out. Onstage, Amy sprinted from either side of the stage while they screamed out this line, stopping to fist bump her bassist and drummer along the way. It took her a few extra seconds to get back to her mic and for the song to resume—they usually don’t play rooms this big.

Sidney Gish comes from the same house show background as Future Teens (in fact, she borrowed a guitar strap from them after she forgot hers at home), but has more experience playing a bigger stage. Armed with a guitar and a loop station, she quickly set up shop in front of the left stage monitors and tore through a handful of songs, mostly from her 2017 breakout album, No Dogs Allowed, which has been steadily gathering critical acclaim and playlist placement since its release, leading to more press coverage than any other local act in recent memory. Her set showed that the hype is deserved—songs like “Rat of The City” and “Presumably Dead Arm” were delivered with playful candor and dead-on rhythmic accuracy, no small feat considering their musical complexity. It can even be a little overwhelming to take in her songs, especially live, when she took the songs like “Persephone” at a faster tempo than on record.

Despite the simplicity of the instrumental arrangement, her songs are overflowing with melodic and lyrical ideas that fly by faster than you can process them, reminiscent of Bo Burnham’s puns or Bill Wurtz’s perfect videos (both of whom she’s cited as influences). Friday night’s show proved that her dexterity on record doesn’t lose any of its edge in a live setting, improvising with accented consonants on “Persephone” and updating lyrics on the fly in “Mouth Log”. At one point, as she started to loop the opening riff of “Sin Triangle”, she asked the audience to stop clapping along because she couldn’t hear herself. “Sorry, you guys can clap along—I’m trying to get better at that”, she joked, “usually I perform in a sensory deprivation tank.”

Vundabar, the bill’s final act, also used to play basement shows in Allston until they began selling out headlining tours. Frontman Brandon Hagen strolled on stage, casually announced that it was his birthday, and dove into “Alien Blues”, off 2015’s Gawk along with bandmate Drew McDonald. “Sorry”, he confessed at the end of the song, “it’s not actually my birthday. My birthday is on Sunday (March 31), but I’m giving myself a three-day window.” This moment set the tone for their set—clad in a silk shirt and black dress pants, Hagen’s retro look belied his light-hearted attitude and comfort in front of a large crowd.

For “Holy Toledo”, the band’s biggest hit, Hagen asked the house manager to bring down, and then kill the lights. For the next 40 minutes, Vundabar didn’t let the energy slip once, delivering a set of thrashing, high-octane rock that had the crowd literally moshing by the fourth song, possibly to the chagrin of the Paradise house staff. They wouldn’t stop for the rest of the night – songs like “Oulala” are built for a live setting, and the entire crowd chanted back the call-and-response bits with full-throated enthusiasm. By the end of the night, there was an almost disorienting contrast between the energy on stage and in the crowd—while the band was playing with the intensity of a rock show, the crowd on the floor was responding with the energy of a punk show, as the moshing continued and a few male crowd-surfers floated across the room, fist-pumping, their lips moving along with the lyrics. After their set was over, loud chants for an encore lasted at least 5 minutes, but the band never reappeared.

Friday’s showcase was a well-chosen, if necessarily small, representation of what Boston’s indie/DIY scene has to offer, highlighting three acts at various levels of commercial success and hopefully setting a precedent for more even more local showcases such as this one. It was also a reminder of an obvious fact—gigs like these do the important work of bridging the gap between mainstream local audiences and local underground acts, and make the case for more equitably distributed and commercially viable record labels, agencies, and venues. In a town where bands form and break up along with the cycles of orientation and graduation, there’s always new local music, and therefore a unique opportunity to discover music in person rather than via algorithm. Don’t let the robots win—get to the gig!

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