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Concert Review: We Were Promised Jetpacks at Webster Hall, March 8, 2014

March 10, 2014

This past Saturday night, for the third time in three years I went to see Scottish indie rock band We Were Promised Jetpacks, an under the radar band that is even better live than they are on their first two excellent albums. The first two times were at small venues, the late Maxwell’s in Hoboken and the Bell House in Brooklyn. Though I haven’t noticed WWPJ get any bigger since that tour that ended at Maxwell’s – they haven’t even released a new album – Webster Hall was a big step up in club size, and in this case the difference greatly affected the show.

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As I mentioned in my Maxwell’s/Bell House review, the show in Brooklyn wasn’t even sold out, so I was able to get right up to the stage, extremely close to lead singer Adam Thompson (my pictures from that show can be found here). It felt like a friends and family show, but with a band like WWPJ, whose bombastic sound could blow the roof off of an arena, you really felt enveloped by the music. Maxwell’s was similar. Playing in that glorified living room meant that every time the band broke the sound barrier – which they do often – you felt it in your bones. It’s difficult to achieve that kind of atmosphere in Webster Hall.

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If the Jetpacks couldn’t quite reach the heights they do in smaller venues, it wasn’t for lack of effort. Lead singer Adam Thompson was at his best, belting out lyrics to crowd favorites like “Quiet Little Voices”, “Ships with Holes” and “Roll Up Your Sleeves” while jumping all over the stage, never stopping for an instant. The band stuck to their trademark of playing long instrumental introductions to many of the songs, which serves to build up the tension and allow for a more gratifying explosion when the lyrics and fullness of the song finally come to bear. In addition to the crowd-pleasing singles, the Jetpacks mixed in a number of songs from a yet-to-be-released third album, which sounds every bit as good as the last two. All in all it was a peak performance by the band.

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Unfortunately, they did not attempt to try some of softer songs, which are still as loud as they come but require some degree of audience participation (read: silence). Shockingly, they did not play “This is my House, This is my Home”. In the Maxwell’s review I wrote: “The performance of House/Home separates WWPJ from a good band (which is obvious from the outset and especially during the QLV/Ships sequence) to a great band. There are many terrific indie bands playing today, but few with the range to pull off House/Home. You can see with the way Thompson closes his eyes often, putting himself into a trance of sorts, the sincerity with which he sings. The gravitas of his lyrics and the sheer volume he brings forth are a sight to behold, like an athlete that is on the zone.” It’s absence was sorely missed, though I’m not sure it would have worked with this rowdy crowd.

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Similarly the band did not perform “Pear Tree”. Here again is what I wrote last time: “During the penultimate song, “Pear Tree”, there is an absolute silence that the band demands and I suspect typically gets. I remember when Pear Tree was played at the Bell House, when the moment to get quiet became clear, you could hear a pin drop. At Maxwell’s, guitarist Michael Palmer resorted to a benign “shhhh”, whereupon I heard at least one person derisively say “oh, come on.” It was disappointing given how enthused the vast majority of the crowd was, but when Thompson blasted out the lines “If you’d be my pear // then I’ll be your tree” at a truly unbelievable volume, it didn’t have quite the impact that it did in the more cavernous Bell House. Brooklyn is mocked for its snobbery and hipster quotient, but in comparing these two venues you can see why the stereotype is unfair.”

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I’m wondering whether as We Were Promised Jetpacks grow in stature, and therefore in audience sizes, the brilliance of those songs will be lost. That would be a huge shame. I don’t mean to take anything away from the band or the show – if the Bell House and Maxwell’s shows were a 9 or a 10, this was a solid 8 at least.  I would see WWPJ again and again. I’m just not sure I want to see them ever again in the frat house that is Webster Hall. And as a long-time fan of the band, I’m not alone in saying that. I found this other review of the show which echoed my sentiments, and then some:

I don’t recall as many crowd surfers or even an all-out assault of slam dancing at any of the previous shows.  Last night was the seventh time I’ve seen the band.  I saw one kid whip his elbow across the head of someone he crashed into.  There were only a few in the mist of the hits and the pent up male macho aggression, but their antics I have to say – distracted from the performance.  I’m all for slam dancing at a punk show.  I get it.  It’s part of the show – at a punk concert.  Even Adam Thompson, singer for WWPJP made a comment the wanna-be punks were stealing some of their thunder.  The surfers lasted till eventually slipping and crash landing onto their bony shoulders and soft heads once the crowd got tired from keeping them up. There were no bodies left on the floor when the show was over.

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Here’s one more quote from my last review that I now, less than a year later, regret writing: “The band closed with “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning”, a song that would blow the roof off of the Barclays Center just as easily as it did tiny Maxwell’s. … WWPJ are two albums into their career and still playing very small venues (and getting very little radio play on stations where they should be a featured band, like SiriusXM’s AltNation). Hopefully that will change soon. If talent alone were the determining factor, they would be playing nothing smaller than Terminal 5 by now. I’m hopeful that one day they’ll reach the status to which belong and we can add them to the list of great bands that once played Maxwell’s.”

Be careful what you wish for I guess.

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