2/17/15 – afterHOURS at Northeastern University

Northeastern’s faux nightclub afterHOURS is tucked away in the corner of a dining hall. Its neon green glass doors were locked up tight, and printer paper taped to the glowing pane read, “Please use the koi pond entrance.”

With the koi pond suffocated under five feet of slush and ice, simply finding the front door to the venue was a struggle in and of itself. But take one step inside afterHOURS and you’ll see why it was worth trudging around in the bitter cold, desperately searching for anything resembling a koi pond. Inside, a darkened nightclub awaits, complete with a raised stage shrouded in purple light. A single column is rooted to the center of the dance floor, equally obnoxious as the infamous view-blocking pillars at The Paradise.

Berklee College of Music attendees Airacuda may originally hail from Holmdale, New Jersey, but they’ve quickly found a place of their own in the Boston scene. Frontman Matt Menges and guitarist Matt Fernicola founded the bluesy indie rock collective three years ago with other Berklee students, leading up to a self-titled EP released the same year.

Before taking the stage, the members of Airacuda emerged from the neon green doors backstage to watch the opener, experimental singer-songwriter Justin Shuttleworth. Sadly, only a few students stood up front to cheer on his mesmerizing, synthy loops laid over poppy acoustic earcandy. Most lined the perimeter of the “club” area, memorizing formulas and scratching out notes for finals, occasionally lifting their heads to acknowledge the performer. Several students even went as far as tapping their pens against their textbooks.

Immediately after Shuttleworth, Menges began to line up free copies of their EP along the front of his monitor onstage. As the other three members joined him and tuned up, fans and friends alike started streaming towards center stage. Fernicola warmed up by quietly playing the theme from Harry Potter, producing a few chuckles across the venue. The crowd wasn’t by any means massive, but by the time Menges and co. were ready to kick off their set, it was evident that they’ve developed a devoted following—even on a freezing Tuesday at a college they don’t attend.

Airacuda dove right in with “Cannonball,” the first track on their EP and a jazzy, feel-good song evoking summer thrills and pool parties. Menges’ soulful vocal chops were just as on point, if not more energized, in a live setting. He’s got classic rock grit straight out of Cream, a touch of Little Richard’s electric swagger, and the polish of contemporary indie bands like The Black Keys or Arctic Monkeys.

Once the crowd was grooving, the band gave a sneak peek of their upcoming EP Daydreaming, due out this August. The title track finds the foursome charting new territory, with a guitar hook reminiscent of chilled-out progressive rock. Bassist Eddie Takumi Ruddick nailed the backing vocal harmonies in a perfect accompaniment to Menges, who worked the crowd with playful melodies and decisive air gestures.

Takumi Ruddick continued to demonstrate his virtuosity with a shredding picked-bass solo that led into the mysterious lounge intro of “Nightlife.” This track might be one of their strongest yet; nuanced dynamics and a dramatic, funky buildup burst into an infectious chorus where Menges wailed, “Haven’t seen broad daylight, since I’ve been livin’ the nightlife!”

Despite the four-piece’s impressive jazz improvisation skills—and the fact that they were able to reduce their songs to a minimalist guitar-based sound—it still felt like the show was missing a few pieces. Perhaps a brass section, like present on the EP, would have helped support the riffing of the string players and added some more color to the show.

Airacuda closed out their short set with what seemed to be a fan favorite, “Can I Get By,” featuring a sing-a-long chorus. Along with the missing horn lines, the song was devoid of the chugging piano on the recording and felt as bare bones as ever. Luckily, Fernicola’s ripping guitar solo shone through with generous stomps on the wah-wah pedal. Combined with Menges’ sunny stage presence, the performance was still a memorable one. By the end, even some of the stingy studiers ditched their textbooks for the dance floor.

After Hours Study Break: Airacuda
Pros
  • Incredibly tight and unified as a live band
  • Impressive soloing and improv, demonstrated arsenal of musical knowledge
  • Clever fusions of classic and contemporary sounds
Cons
  • Audience engagement could have been much stronger
  • Stage presence, as a band, needs to be turned up a notch
  • No horns leaves a noticeable void in their live performances
7Overall Score

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