Bishop Allen bolstered Modified's mid-week lineup leading up to the annual, and, very sadly, final Modifest. The Brooklyn-via-Cambridge crew took to the drooping stage, and set up to the barking of exuberant fans, like eager puppies begging for a treat. And the band delivered, but not in the sweet, twee package fans of their albums might expect.
The candy-apple red drum kit, glittery bass body and xylophone added to the band's whimsy pop airs. "Cue The Elephants" kicked in sans buildup, a straight shot of energy cloaked in Blondie's more rocksteady tendencies. Bishop Allen played out the tension, release and mania of each following song astute precision, each note well-rehearsed and strategically placed. The ruckus, wild rumpus with which the audience responded was entirely opposite, but perfectly expected.
Front man Justin Rice razzled and dazzled, punctuating lyrics by alternating dance moves from a solid roster of jazz hands, the running man and The Charleston (sometimes melding two together). "Empire City" got rowdy, with Bishop Allen striking down any ideas that their live presence would ooze a twee cuteness. This was not going to be nonchalant.
This angelic pop played out with animalistic ferocity showed Bishop Allen's punk roots more than anything: next to no stage banter, song after song played with attack and no sign of complacency.
"This song is about something you don't know so much about," Rice said, introducing "Winter Coat." Jangling tambourines shook the giddy hip kids at the from into a clapping groove, air drums included. Then staccato beats chopping at dreamy guitars brought the set to "The Monitor."
By the end of the November night, sweat bled through Rice's shirt. Breaking in the green room for less than a minute, Bishop Allen responded to the emphatic cries of "More, more!" and trotted out a three-song encore. First came "Another Wasted Night," with Christian Rudder bouncing as if on a pogo stick, and drum beats charging as if there would be no end. Then bass-heavy "Flight 180" hinted at some darkness, Joy Division style. The first song they ever wrote, "Ghosts Are Good," closed out the set with xylophonist Darbie Rice taking an ethereal lead. Justin kept the beat with her xylo mallots, while he and Christian sang back up. The end proved to be the delicate bow that topped the overall sturdy and rocking rest.
Last Night: Bishop Allen at Modified Arts
Better Than: Not hanging at Modified as much as humanly possible before it no longer hosts shows like this one
Personal Bias: I had never seen Bishop Allen live, but was hoping for the high energy vibes that they delivered, in favor of silly feigned embarrassment and preciousness that could've been their schtick.
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Random Detail: One crazed fan in the front row busted out a perfect replication of Jack Black's signature spin, lick, feel-up move from High Fidelity. I only wish more folks had taken notice.
Further Listening: The Paragons "The Tide is High"