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September Concerts Go Two for Three

College Rave, College Fest hits, but Disorientation disappoints

By Dan Katz

Staff Writer

September means the start of the college year, and the start of the college year means plenty of young ears for local rock radio stations to try to recruit for the next nine months. This year’s “student rush” included WFNX’s free Disorientation at the Hatch Shell, the student-discounted WBCN College Rave at the BankBoston Pavilion, and musical entertainment at Hynes Convention Center’s College Fest (also sponsored by WFNX.)

The earliest concert, WFNX Disorientation on Saturday, September 11, went from revolutionary to revolting at a blinding rate. The show kicked off with a short performance by Boston’s resident oddball performance troupe, Blue Man Group. The trio’s stint on stage featured visually stimulating stunts involving paint, marshmallows, and plastic tubing (use your imagination), while their backup band produced wild, drum-intensive prog-rock that, for me, almost overshadowed the antics onstage. Unfortunately, since BMG’s show is pricey, and this one was not, the group only provided a fifteen-minute taster.

Even more unfortunately, the next act was Jact, a group with combined decent guitar playing and an overconfident British vocalist to produce music that was boring, unenergetic, and completely unappreciated by the crowd. Frying under the midday sun, the assembled masses had very little vocal reaction to Jact’s set, and not much more to headliners the Flys. The Flys’ lead singer sang most of his lyrics into a microphone that made his voice sound slightly distorted, slightly bubbly, and very recorded, detracting from the live experience. While the band presented some good songs (including the very catchy “She’s So Huge” and a welcome cover of Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train”) they were playing for a crowd that was already very bored. The band didn’t leave the stage before their encore -- had they stepped backstage, half of the crowd might have left before they emerged.

College Fest’s audience last weekend was thousands of student conventiongoers, so the only people watching the bands were people who wandered over to the stage and were convinced to stick around. While I didn’t get a chance to see the national acts, local bands Dispatch and Gravel Pit certainly held their own at the event.

Dispatch provided a funky rock style somewhere between College Rave bands 311 and G. Love and Special Sauce. Their gimmick was the swapping of instruments throughout the set, but after a long group of plugged-in songs, the band’s largest audience appeared when they closed with a strong acoustic song called “Steamboat,” which attracted twice as many people as their other material.

The Gravel Pit followed with some very original-sounding rock songs, featuring a front man with the rasp and swagger of Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ vocalist Dickie Barrett, playing organ and singing quirky lyrics reminiscent of They Might Be Giants. Both Dispatch and Gravel Pit are terrific local talents waiting for a break.

Sunday night’s College Rave featured a very eclectic lineup. Buckcherry opened with a set of hard-edged old-fashioned guitar rock, including such clichÉs as a wild tattooed singer and a guitarist playing with his teeth. The band seemed a little too preoccupied with drug use, however, delivering long-winded speeches encouraging the use of marijuana and cocaine. The music, including raging singles “Lit Up” and “For The Movies,” was worth the sermon.

Philadelphia’s own G. Love followed, getting the crowd dancing with funky tunes built around bouncy guitar lines and harmonica solos, peaking with “I-76” and “Stepping Stone.”

Ben Folds Five put in an incredible performance as always, using mood lighting to enhance haunting tunes like “Mess” and blasting through more upbeat songs like “Jackson Cannery” and “Army.” At the beginning of the set, a large contingent of 311 fans voiced their disapproval for the band; after their performance, that group was notably less obvious.

And 311? Well, I’ll admit their light show was frenzied and exciting to watch, and the guitarists hit their power chords flawlessly. Unfortunately, I still feel all 311 songs sound very similar, and this made the show get boring very quickly. However, for anyone with the patience to put up with 311’s repetitive nature, the show was probably incredible.

So, in summary: Disorientation bad. College Fest good. College Rave good. Looks like you get what you pay for (Moby’s terrific free show in late August notwithstanding). I’ll be on the edge of my seat to see who the radio stations unveil next September.