Tancred brought enthusiastic power pop to a rapt audience at the Middle East.

2/15/17 – Middle East Upstairs

Tancred’s Jess Abbott lived out a fantasy last Wednesday at the Middle East Upstairs: finally headlining a notable Boston venue.

The Kittery, Maine native demurely bragged about having finally “made it” in Boston. Though she achieved relative national success with her other band, Now, Now, Abbott’s new side project is still relatively obscure. Thanks to a lineup of strong local opening acts helping to pull in a near sold-out crowd, the humblebrag was warranted.

Saccharine, known mostly for tranquil and contemplative music, floored the audience with loud and distorted arrangements. On 2016’s underrated We Both Became The Sky, songwriter Kevin Patrick King created a collage of quiet tunes both complex and artfully restrained. Live, however, the four piece band is much more dynamic. Songs had moments driven by fuzz and heavy grooves, tastefully supporting the lyrical intensity.

Though this was Tancred’s night, much of the audience was excited for the official public release of opener Lilith’s new EP, Apology Plant. Unfortunately, the band’s performance was one of the low points of the evening. Though the dreamy indie rock band sounds great on record, their live performance came off somewhat bland and monotonous.

Though this is not abnormal for a dream pop act like Lilith, there was nothing ethereal or atmospheric to enhance the uniformity in the songs. Bland guitars, simple bass lines, and occasionally out-of-tune harmonies made what was fun and dreamy on record more sleep-inducing in person. Lilith rallied as the set progressed and ended on the exciting, slow burn of a newer, not-yet-released song—a high note that almost salvaged their set.

Lilith’s lead singer shared some Tancred love from the stage, even admitting, “I want to be Jess Abbott when I grow up… even though I’m older than her.”

Tancred’s Jess Abbott quickly earned that praise. From the first downbeat Tancred sounded fully polished with a tight rhythm section underlining Abbott’s guitar and vocals. The group’s power pop songs were fun and effervescent, like the soundtracks of coming-of-age teen movies in the 90s. The crowd instantly started head bobbing and dancing in place. Some people even sang along with more obscure Tancred songs.

Abbott seems to have no trouble switching roles from backup singer and rhythm guitar player in delicate, elegiac band Now, Now to sole frontwoman of the edgier and more lighthearted Tancred. The unassuming Abbott came across as a confident and comfortable bandleader and was fun to watch throughout the set. Abbott played a song by herself while her band went off stage to grab a beer, but her effortless guitar playing and natural falsetto carried the song and charmed the audience.

Halfway through the set the band curiously began an unironic rendition of Sheryl Crow’s seminal 90s hit, “If It Makes You Happy.” Why and how this song made it into the setlist was unclear, but the entire Middle East shouted along with every chorus, revealing a collective guilty pleasure.

Tancred played many of the songs off of 2016’s Out of the Garden but “Pens” was a particular standout. The single was performed with particular intensity and earnestness, likely due to the addition of a sit-in drummer, Kevin Medina. Despite it being his first show with the band, he propelled songs along with an explosive confidence that is lacking on record.

Medina’s incendiary performance style continued to add excitement throughout the set, culminating in the closing number, “Pretty Girls.” Crushing guitar riffs met with bouncing and catchy hooks, ultimately leaving the audience to continue singing along with the final chorus after Tancred walked off stage. Given the strength of her songwriting and the performance of the band, Jess Abbott may have found herself a new main gig with Tancred.

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