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Marvelous 3 and SR-71

The Too-Much-Rock-For-One-Band Tour

By Dan Katz

staff writer

It always puzzles me when bands get huge exposure across the country and particular cities just don’t catch on. The Marvelous 3 had a huge hit a few years ago with “Freak of the Week” (recently heard in the movie Loser), but its follow-ups have barely registered on the radar in Boston. Hopefully, when they appear this Wednesday night at Axis with SR-71, the latter band’s big hit, “Right Now,” will bring in some new fans to boost the Three’s local rep.

That track was, in fact, a collaborative effort between the two bands; while it’s performed by SR-71, the song was written by SR-71’s lead singer Mitch Allan and the Marvelous 3’s lead singer Butch Walker. Don’t let that make you think Allan and his young bandmates don’t have songwriting skills of their own. The band’s debut album, Now You See Inside, is packed with marketable tracks, some of which are a bit formulaic, others of which stand very well on their own.

The album opens up with a duo of punk-pop tracks, the upbeat “Politically Correct,” which sets a mood of adolescent rebellion, and the diabolically infectious “Right Now.” Then the atmosphere switches radically, however, as “What A Mess” starts off with a quiet guitar line ringing in the darkness beside tense, whispered vocals, which eventually make way for a more full chorus. It’s at this point we discover that SR-71 aren’t simply successors to Blink-182’s throne; they cover the gamut of alternapop, from the angsty urgency of Eve 6 to the unforgettable guitar hooks of Third Eye Blind.

The disc’s highlights include the brilliantly written “Alive,” and a very viable second single, the catchy and energetic “Last Man On The Moon.” The album loses a little steam as the end draws near with the mildly forgettable tracks “Go Away” and “Paul McCartney,” but even these songs are listenable, and as a unit, the album is very solid for a debut.

The Marvelous 3, on the other hand, are supporting a third album, and their maturation shows from the first note to the last. The band’s first album, Math And Other Problems, was wild and fast-paced; their followup Hey! Album had much better production and a more varied sound, but seemed to lose just a smidgen of spirit (although the band’s live shows, full of high-speed improvised rambling and guitair pick acrobatics, never lacked for energy). They may have noticed the difference, because shortly before the release of their third album, Walker announced that their new goal was to recreate the band’s live sound. With Readysexgo, they have accomplished that and more.

The Marvelous 3’s sound is somehow novel and classic at the same time, based around straightforward modern guitar licks with a bit of a hair band mentality in the vocals. One of the credits in the liner notes lists the people singing the line “Everywhere there was a big Def Leppard sounding gang vocal.” This, it turns out, happens in a lot of places, as the trio’s new thing seems to be huge epic choruses. It’s a tactic that can flop if you don’t do it right, but on songs like “Grant Park” and “Radio Tokyo,” the band pulls it off flawlessly. It shows especially well in the album’s excellent closer, “Cigarette Lighter Song,” where a lonely piano musically bursts into flames as a huge vocal harmony enters the soundscape.

The lyrics on the new disc are just as witty and wordy as they’ve always been. In “Grant Park,” Walker calls unfaithful love “about as tacky as a satellite dish on a hot pink house with a burgundy door.” “Cold As Hell” revolves around the chorus line, “She said I was cold as hell / But hell’s not cold, I know, I know / ’Cause I’ve been there for the last half hour or so / And the devil said it never snows.” It’s this light-hearted attitude and way with words, combined with killer musicianship and amazing songwriting that makes the band a pleasure to listen to live and on CD.

Wednesday night, Axis will showcase an up-and-coming nostalgia rock band (additional openers Tsar), one of the fastest-learning rookie acts to appear in recent years, and finally, for my money, the best live guitar rock band in North America; ten bucks and a trip to Landsdowne Street seems a small price to pay for that combination to me. Do yourself a favor if you haven’t made it out to any concerts yet this year. Come to this one. You won’t be disappointed.