Live Review: We Were Promised Jetpacks and Lonely Forest @ Neumos 3/2

review by Royal Stuart | photos by Alex Crick

As soon as the band started testing their mics and tuning their guitars I began to regret having forgotten my earplugs. “Whoa. That’s loud,” said the person next to me to no one in particular. And when The Lonely Forest started into their set in earnest, I was forced to retreat from my position directly under a bank of speakers to the far reaches of the club to try and find some ear protection. Neumos — thankfully — is happy to oblige anyone who wants to protect their ears from the insane decibel levels being pumped out overhead.

Returning to the floor with my ears plugged, I settled in for the remainder of the Anacortes, Washington band’s set. I’d heard the name Lonely Forest before, most likely thanks to KEXP, but I would have been hard pressed to come up with the name of a song or an album. It turns out that wouldn’t matter, as the band proceeded to play almost an entire set of brand new songs. The capacity crowd was decidedly uninterested as the band got underway, but it didn’t take long before we all came around, attention rapt. Halfway through their second song, “Tunnels” from the band’s forthcoming new album, drummer Braydn Krueger was allowed to perform a minor miracle on his kit. His solo was a beautiful thing. Based on that performance alone I would have called the band’s opening set a rousing success.

With lead singer John Van Deusen’s vocals mixed to a level well above those of the other instruments, I was reminded of a few bands where the vocals play an unusually loud part of the mix. A friend of mine said there was more than a little Death Cab in there, but to me it was more refined than that — a sort of Harvey Danger meets the Dismemberment Plan. While his voice wasn’t as melodic as Sean Nelson’s (nor his prose as unique), it was definitely equal to if not better than Travis Morrison’s (at least during the Plan’s heyday. He’s taken a different vocal path with his solo career). And while the clear-as-day lyrics were a bit clichéd at times, Lonely Forest is young enough that with time I’m confident they’ll come around to deeper, more original lyrical fare. As the middle act for this leg of the tour, they set the bar quite high for the headliner. I’m confident they have a long and fruitful career ahead of them.

After months upon months of touring around the globe, Adam Thompson of We Were Promised Jetpacks is a man of very few words. It’s not often you see a band headline their own sold-out tour less than six months after their stateside debut as opener for an established act. But here they were, four men from Glasgow, a bit mystified at their own success. “All of you guys are here, and we’re just a little band from Scotland — we’re not quite sure how this has happened.” Considering the band’s set was less than an hour long, I was thankful he didn’t say much more than that.

It took the band a couple songs to get warmed up. Starting off with the extreme build-up of “Keeping Warm,” it appeared as if they were just going through the motions. You can’t blame them for looking and playing with limited exuberance, given their never-ending tour schedule and the high level of energy that each of their anthemic songs demands, but I had come to see the band I saw open the show in October, damn it. A song and a half into their set, and it was quickly turning out to be more like a handful of overworked, exhausted young men.

Thankfully, after the crowd’s massive cheer following their biggest hit, “Quiet Little Voices,” the band visibly loosened up and settled in to perform most of the remaining songs from their amazing debut, These Four Walls, along with a couple songs from their newly-released tour EP, The Last Place You’ll Look.

The highlights of the show were the couple of songs that got the crowd really worked up. So much so that the floor started bouncing, similar to something I’ve only experienced at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning” and “Short Bursts” both forced the crowd into this fever pitch, bringing along that unsettling feeling that the floor is going to give out because everyone is rising and falling in unison to the thump of the bass drum and the drone of the guitars.

But we survived, and the band finished up their short set, opting to stay on stage for their final song rather than pretending to have a “final” song and then come back for an encore. I’m a big proponent of this move — the Long Winters used to do it, too. It’s probably a gimmick for those bands with fewer playable songs than are necessary to carry a full headlining set. Why bother stretching it out when you know your fans can name exactly which song you’ll come out and play next because they’ve heard all your other songs already?

I’m dying to hear more from We Were Promised Jetpacks. Their debut and the follow-up EP just aren’t enough. I’m a bit concerned that they can’t carry this momentum forward into new territory. I really, really, hope they prove me wrong.

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~ by royalbacon on March 5, 2010.

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