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Concert Review: The O.C. Meets the East CoastRooney and Ben Lee Rock Paradise

By Sarah Dupuis
STAFF WRITER

Rooney with Ben Lee

Monday, Oct. 30, 2006

Paradise Rock Club

My roommate loves bad pop music. She likes the stuff that’s so bad it’s good: Destiny’s Child, 98 Degrees, and the Hiltons (both Tyler and Paris) fill our room with an odious Top-40 aroma so pungently infective it becomes catchy. As a college student bred to ingest alternative rock by parents involved in the music industry, moving into a musically-shared living space proved difficult at first, but ultimately weather-able. I’ve even gotten my roommate to appreciate the Irish rock band Snow Patrol. Despite our apparent compromises, so far I’ve been unsuccessful in dragging her to see a rock show. When I invited her to last Monday’s Rooney/Ben Lee concert at Paradise Rock Club, she was initially resistant. However, as soon as I reminded her of Rooney’s appearance on the first season of the popular television show “The O.C.,” she changed her mind, grabbed her purse, and off we went.

The entire night was a perfect compromise between my roommate’s pop affinity and my rock preferences. Ben Lee opened the show, presenting his comical style of pop rock with a tight backing band to a bevy of Australian-adoring fans. Sporting a metallic gold suit and hair that hasn’t been tamed since he showed up on the Australian pop scene in the early ’90s, Lee delivered his formulaic, two-to-three chord ditties. He performed with so much self-confidence that the audience was tricked into hearing depth where none existed, simply by watching Lee enjoy his own music.

Lee’s excessive chattering between songs, though, never allowed the audience adequate time to soak in the afterglow of his quasi-heartfelt songs. He informed the audience that the next song would be a “sexy number,” yet his voice was lukewarm at best, and sounded as though it had been drenched overnight in a vat of MySpace teen fandom.

Lee did, however, employ the audience — whom he referred to collectively as “Boston” — throughout his set. He elicited their call-and-response services during several of his songs; he relied on them almost as heavily as a member of his four-piece back up band. The greatest problem with his set was its clean accuracy — Lee’s performance, although energized, was tight to the point of annoyance. Towards the end of the set, he covered Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” which provided an interesting contrast to his own music, but he applied the same forensic pop instrumentation that grace his original tunes in concert, and thereby missed the sloppy energy that drives the original version. Regardless, the audience, including my roommate, seemed to eat it all up, and Lee was met with much applause when he closed his set with the pop single “Catch My Disease.”

The mood inside Paradise shifted dramatically as Californian five-piece pop rock act Rooney took the stage, delivering all the raw energy that Ben Lee lacked in his set. With a more stylized, engaging, and downright cool performance, the band looked as though it had stepped straight off the California beach where the video for their first single, 2003’s “Blueside,” was shot. Donning the shaggy haircuts that are emblematic of their mother state, Rooney delivered the kind of sardonically catchy tunes that display not only their musical excellence and irrepressible cockiness, but also their tremendous lyrical wit.

Rooney’s opening song, “Sorry Sorry,” is an apologetically playful and all the while sing-along-able song detailing mild remorse for a sexual encounter that makes the female party’s life “a living hell.” The next song, “I’m A Terrible Person,” shows the narrator giving his girlfriend’s diary to his friends for a few laughs at her expense before dumping her publicly. “Daisy Duke” describes a May-December romance in which the elder male cradle-robber makes his jailbait girlfriend fall in love with him and then cuffs her to the bathtub - all delivered with as much pop sensibility as similar rock outfit Keane.

Despite their borderline-offensive chauvinistic subject matter, Rooney’s egotism is one of its greatest appeals. Take frontman Robert Carmine n Robert Schwartzman, who is the son of producer Jack Scwartzman and actress Talia Shire, brother of drummer-cum-actor Jason Schwartzman, and cousin of Nicolas Cage and Sofia Coppola. The kind of glamorously fun egotism Carmine delivers on stage is reminiscent of Julian Casablancas of The Strokes fame. Carmine’s arrogance, and the lyrics that reflect it, are what defined Rooney’s sound and made its first album so successful.

The new pieces Rooney showcased on Monday took a drastic step away from that old material. Their guitar solos were obtrusive and reminiscent of Power Rangers theme music. The slower ballads sounded like Jet at its worst. Lyrically, Carmine fell flat — on “Tell Me,” he pleads for his girlfriend to tell him that she loves him, but it just wasn’t believable. This kind of sap from the same guy who unapologetically sang “I’m sorry sorry for making your life a living hell”? Carmine announced that the band was still in the process of recording its sophomore album. One can only hope they manage to write some cleverer songs between now and the release date.

Despite the disappointing new material, Rooney really put on an exciting show. Carmine clearly got off from the obvious intoxication his good genes spread to the female members of the audience, and posed every time he saw the flash of a digital camera. He even paraded around the stage with a Californian flag bearing the band’s name, which drew great cheers from the crowd. The band brought Ben Lee back on stage and closed the show with an appropriate cover of the Beach Boys’ “California Girls.”

Ben Lee and Rooney continue to tour through November, and Rooney plans to release a new album in early 2007. Recommended for those with musical taste somewhere in between Paris Hilton and Modest Mouse.