Smile Politely

Notes from the Candy Aisle: Three Hour Tour and The Redwalls

[The Highdive, Saturday, April 19]

Cristy: Power pop—the candy aisle of rock. You got your classic Hershey’s chocolate (Big Star); tangy Smarties (Weezer); and sparkly gold Werthers caramel (Matthew Sweet). If you’re a power pop fan, Three Hour Tour and The Redwalls are pure sugary confections.

William: Three Hour Tour, in a spirited bullshit-free performance, delivered catchy songs with brevity, precision, harmonies and unexpected changes, including but not dominated by guitar solos.

C: They reminded me of every power pop band I love: Material Issue. Sloan. The Plimsouls. That was just dandy with me. What the hell’s not to like about saccharine lyrics about love, crunchy rhythm guitars, sing-along melodies, and crisp solos? I mean, just before the show I read an interview with the frontman of an “alternative drone” band. He declared that he hated The Beatles — that they’d basically ruined music for everybody. These are the same jealous people who hate puppies and the sun.

Three Hour Tour’s lead singer and songwriter, Darren Cooper, reminded me of Guided by Voices’ Robert Pollard. He and the rest of the band — bassist Paul Chastain, guitarist Kent Whitesell and drummer John Richardson — looked like they were having a blast onstage.

W: They did, but not in an indulgent way. The song structures seemed to challenge them but be satisfying to pull off. After 20 minutes the claws came out, and the rock became more fierce and uncomfortable.

C: The mostly minor-key “What Made You Change” opens with bombastic drums reminiscent of the “Strawberry Fields Forever” fadeout and continues with the best of minor-key Beatles moments: “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” “Dig a Pony,” and the Lennon solo song ”(I Know) I’m Losing You.” Good stuff.

The sixth song stood out; I think it contained the words “the devil you know.” It reminded me of a hot summer day circa 1981, riding in a Ford Granada with the windows down.

W: It’s too true. The music was well-composed, but I couldn’t tell what the songs were about. Though I recognize that songs don’t always have to be “about,” it is a writerly preoccupation of mine. Simple fragments disconnected from any overall vector of meaning drifted out of the P.A. It seemed that only obvious phrases were intelligible (“There’s so much more”), and that more interesting lyrics would be absorbed by the sound that propelled them. I suppose this will always be a problem with amplified rock shows.

C: The biggest treat was Three Hour Tour’s last song. You’d think a power pop band would pay homage to their forefathers — maybe a Cheap Trick b-side — but the band veered into early ‘70s glam rock with a kick-ass rendition of Brian Eno’s “Needles in the Camel’s Eye.” I was thrilled.

W: This ultimate, explosive show-stopping cover did indeed kick my ass. Through the lens of this tune I saw clearly the contours of the Three Hour Tour. Power-pop: virtuosity without sheen, accessible but not servile. A rock solid foundation upon which to build a body of work.

C: While Three Hour Tour were an indulgent can of buttercream frosting, The Redwalls were a bag of jelly beans — sweet, with a variety of flavors. They blended many musical styles while staying true to their British Invasion roots.

My first thought when the band took the stage was, “They’re tiny!” Immediately, my mind flooded with questions: “Do they buy their jeans from Limited Too? Do they wake up in the morning and decide to keep their phenomenal bed-head all day, or do they run cement-like pomade through their locks two minutes before showtime?”

W: It took a couple of songs to be able to listen through the photogenic facade these guys presented. Cute and young, they seemed as though each one had his own private fashion coach, who even selected classic guitars for them. Each musician looked like a glossy photo torn out of a different year of Rolling Stone. Logan Baren (vocals/guitars) looked like the Faces. Justin Baren (vocals/bass) looked like the Knack. Andrew Langer (vocals/guitars) looked like the Romantics. Rob Jensen (drums) looked like The Zombies. They were like rock dolls. But cool.

C: The band traded vocals among the two guitarists and bassist. I’m a big proponent of sharing vocal duties — it keeps things exciting.

W: What stood out was the excellent singing. Logan, Justin and Andrew each took the lead on various songs, sang three-part harmonies, and Logan in particular was able to not only hit notes but emphasize words, employing various techniques (including shouting) over the course of a song, to make the songs sound written, to sound like they meant it.

C: Justin played what looked like a Brian Jones-style Vox Teardrop. Chewing gum absentmindedly, he milked the British Invasion look for all it was worth. So did the rest of the band. Logan reveled in his swaggering snottiness, then softened, becoming dreamy and sweet when the music called for it. The girls swooned, which was actually refreshing. The last time I encountered that kind of old-school band/audience interplay was at a Beatles tribute show years ago. (At most of the dumb emo shows I went to in college, both sexes either had their eyes closed or glued to the ground as they silently bobbed their pixie-type heads. Tiresome.)

W: Between-song banter: “We were on T.V.” Logan gloats with appropriately boyish satisfaction, dreamily smiling at the ceiling before drifting into the next song. This is about as much as they care to reveal about themselves.

But even without long introductions (or false modesty), the songs had evident musical and lyrical ideas. The bass and rhythm guitar seemed static. Andrew Langer appeared to be the virtuoso in the band, playing a 12-string for part of the set, producing simple guitar melodies, performing the redemptive “Build a Bridge” in a countrified Rolling Stones style, and even taking a couple of solos over the course of the set.

C: The highlight of the show for me was that song. The harmonies were stellar, and it showed that The Redwalls have a real knack for slower, bluesy songs.

During their encore, the uninspired cover of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” was fun, but The Redwalls’ originals were more exciting.

W: I stood by the stage as they exited. Andrew Langer’s zipper strained to hold closed the tiny jeans that seemed to be the band’s uniform. Rob Jenson (who was so polite he had stood in line behind us to get into his own show) was reserved as he waved goodbye to the crowd. Justin Barren cast a juicy wink to one of the adoring females in the front row, chewing his youthful gum while taking swigs of his adult Budweiser. Logan Barren seemed out of his head with excitement, glistening with sweat, pupils dilated. I watched The Redwalls exit into an unknown future. Would they be able to survive the consequences of their undeniable star quality, get along, stay naïve, and continue to pool their talent to perpetuate their perfect commercial nostalgia rock package — or was I watching the last flare of a meteorite, visible brightly and briefly in a trajectory that must end in ash?

C: Oh, William. You’re so dramatic.

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