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concert review: ...Hot Hot Heat... Warms Up MIT CrowdFall Alternative Concert Also Features ...The Redwalls... and ...We Are Scientists...

By Minyoung Jang

Openers: We Are Scientists, The Redwalls

Headliner: Hot Hot Heat

Friday, Nov. 10, 2005

Morss Hall, Walker Memorial, 8 p.m.

Sponsored by the UA Committee on Student Life

Given the murky swamp of acoustics that Walker has been in the past, Friday’s concert featuring Hot Hot Heat was surprisingly not the aural disaster that I dreaded it would be. Although it was a little odd to see the stage backdrop not fully covering the golden-haloed figures painted on the wall of Morss Hall, I suppose the concert organizers can be forgiven for choosing Walker as the venue given that Johnson is iced over and Kresge is filled with enough seats to dampen any crowd’s enthusiasm.

I wandered in just in time to miss opening act We Are Scientists — and that was by showing up at 8:30 for a 10 p.m. headliner. Organizers estimated that 430 people attended the concert, but perhaps only 100 people were present that early on. Thirty-minute sets by two openers spaced by two 30-minute soundchecks was clearly not the way to attract or hold the attention of a crowd that had mostly never heard of either opener before.

I do have to give the Undergraduate Association Committee on Student Life credit for managing to present some variety within the “alternative rock” music genre, however. Second opener The Redwalls indeed were Beatles-esque, as they describe themselves — a contrast to the retro ’80s pop/rock-punk genre of Hot Hot Heat (think something between The Killers and Franz Ferdinand). Sure, neither of them pioneer an innovative musical style, but they represent their respective genres well — something that is respectable considering the recent penchant for the retro vibe and subsequent proliferation of sound-alike bands on the indie scene.

Considering that their first few songs sounded like one happy Beatles cover after another until they broke up the monotony with the much darker “What a Shame,” it wasn’t too surprising that The Redwalls received a lukewarm reception. But given their bluesy, old-school rock feel, it was a shame that the crowd didn’t seem to enjoy it more. With a guitarist that reminded me of Topher Grace (from “That 70’s Show”) and encouraged MIT students to legalize marijuana when we become leaders, perhaps The Redwalls would have been received better in a smoky bar with a couple of shots rather than in a not-quite-dark-enough Walker.

In addition to Walker’s mural not being fully covered, the unfocused spotlights made the entire setup feel sort of haphazard. The colored and strobe lights weren’t very distinct, and the swirling patterns that became noticeably visible only on the high ceilings were hard to appreciate.

When Hot Hot Heat came on stage to fanfare music and a band backdrop that couldn’t be revealed in one swift move, the atmosphere seemed awkward and lacked anticipation. Songs like “Running Out of Time,” “Dirty Mouth,” and “Get In or Get Out” quickly had heads bopping. Eventually, enthusiastic dancing began to include random shoving, much to the annoyance of everyone else in the crowd.

Hot Hot Heat had less of what I like to call a “wall of sound,” where the listener gets a blended blast of instrumentals and vocals, than The Redwalls. The show focused on lead vocalist Steve Bays, both in terms of the sound levels as well as his attention-grabbing spastic dancing; interaction among other band members was rather minimal. The guys weren’t exactly big on words either — they tended to launch into one song right after another with minimal commentary, which was probably fine by a crowd that was eager to just dance for a solid hour and sing along to the few singles that they were familiar with.

The rest of the program was a good mix of new and old (from the 2005 release Elevator and 2002’s Make Up the Breakup). Shouts of “more cowbell!” appropriately accompanied the intro to “Talk to Me, Dance with Me” while the musically repetitive and boring rhythm of “You Owe Me an IOU” kept the crowd upbeat nonetheless. They rounded out the set with “No, Not Now,” “Save Us SOS,” and “Bandages,” the last accompanied by a good portion of the crowd singing along. A three-song encore, including the first-time live debut of a new song, fittingly closed out the night with “Goodnight, Goodnight.” Although the setting was less than perfect, Hot Hot Heat put on a fun show, warming up the crowd in style on a chilly November night with their infinitely danceable songs and attitude.