We Were Promised Jetpacks at Varsity Theater, 3/21/12

We Were Promised Jetpacks
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Scottish indie rockers We Were Promised Jetpacks proved here's still room for invention within the genre at the Varsity Theater on Wednesday night. They offered up a powerful, fairly emotional set, though it could hardly be classified as "emo." It was at turns both measured and frenetic and had and undercurrent of slight sadness running throughout.

WWPJ kicked off the set with the drawn-out, malaise-drenched "Hard to Remember" from last year's In the Pit of the Stomach, which was a harbinger for what the crowd would experience for the rest of the night. Contained within its ten minutes were guitars that alternated between rage and reflection. Lead singer Adam Thompson's insightful lyrics offered both hope and regret. Long stretches of what can only be described as buzzing silence eventually exploded like cannon fire into a city. At its heart, WWPJ's songs are power-pop gems that have been battered with lead pipes and had chunks of scrap metal welded onto them. You can see what they once were, maybe, but what was presented as a finished piece is infinitely more interesting to take in.

WWPJ's ultimate weapon -- a weapon that was not obvious on record but undeniable in a live setting -- was guitarist Michael Palmer, who had a pedal board fit for a post-rock band and also, somewhat unbelievably, had his guitar hooked up to a synth as well. The noises that burst out of his guitar were at times beautiful, corroded, prickly, and soaring and sometimes they were all those things at once. It was nothing short of shocking to watch a song unfold with Palmer clearly the linchpin of every one.

About halfway through the set, WWPJ's most well-known (and possibly best) song, "Quiet Little Voices" from 2009's These Four Walls appeared and it seemed the crowd, which was full of smiling faces from front to back, was hooked -- if they hadn't been already. "Quiet Little Voices" is the skeleton key of sorts to unlocking WWPJ, as well. It possessed a sharp pop sensibility but was too long for a pop song, too damaged, and really plain just too good. The unexpected barrel roll it took toward the end was inspired.

From there they slipped into the crushing "Keeping Warm" and took a slow, gracious walk to the finish line. "Sore Thumb" from the new record was a particular highlight and then right toward the end was a coup of sorts. "Pear Tree" with it's explosive beginning which snuffed itself out and slow-built again into a cacophony is the epic anthem every band should aspire to and as it leaked into "It's Thunder and It's Lightning" to close out, it seemed the crowd maybe got more than it bargained for. They likely came to see a good band play a good set of songs, but what they got was a near-transcendent set of songs from a band possibly on its way to greatness.

Critic's Bias: I was interested to see exactly how WWPJ would translate live and admittedly had my doubts about it being as good live as on record. The fact that the live show far eclipsed their recorded material was beyond exciting.

The Crowd: Hard to peg, which is great for the band in terms of expanding fanbase. People of all ages, a good mix of men and women and people in both Rancid hoodies and Black Lips t-shirts.

Overheard: "This guitarist is the best I've seen in years."

Random Notebook Dump: This crowd is enthralled. Perma-grins and no hipster posturing. 

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