The whole night had a retro motif. A pinball machine off to the right, an old-timey photo booth to the left, and the High Dive's pin-up girl logo hanging above the bar. I thought I'd walked back into the roller skating rink of my misspent Midwestern youth, chock full of awkwardness and angst. I guess the mood was set for some good ol' fashioned guitar pop.
Headliner Sister Psychic was a complete throwback to the poppy guitar riffs of Buffalo Tom, with flashes of XTC if they cranked the flange knob all the way to the right. The band mixed new material with songs that put them on KEXP and college rock stations back in the 90s, with a particular standout in new song and set-opener "The Girl Who Couldn't Laugh." Having never heard the Sisters back in the day, I was taken with how current their sound was, equal parts harmony and fuzz that I immediately bought in to. At the end, they gave away CDs. They wouldn't even take my money.
Listening to Key Note Speaker's MySpace profile had prepared me for their smooth concoction of melody and lyricism, but the band displayed a raw energy during their set. Frontman Scott Gallagher threw himself around the tiny stage when he wasn't singing, dragging the small but attentive crowd into the moment. The groups songs took on a more immediate edge. Think of The Pixies without the manic craze, or R.E.M. without the sly grin. Contemporary rock that's fresh yet familar. It wasn't until after the show, listening to their release The Musical, that I really wished they'd played their cover of Tom Waits' "Goin' Out West." Expect it to be called out next time, gents.
So what is this, the return of the power-pop trio bands I loved in Junior High? Will I have to buy a new pair of Sketchers and go back to drinking Slurpies like I did in '93? God I hope not, but it was perfect music for a few beers, a couple quarters of pinball, and a trip down memory lane.