Thursday was officially the first full day of Summer 2012 and a fantastic lineup at this week's Thursday at the Harbor, delivering a wave of positive vibes, soaring melodies and incendiary guitar licks.
Matthew Sweet and his killer three-piece band were at the center of it all. The power pop legend is in the middle of his "Girlfriend" tour, in which he performs the entirety of that 1991 masterwork front to back, a gimmick that more and more '90s acts are using to appeal to nostalgic fans and ramp up ticket sales. Given the short time frame Sweet was given to play, a few "Girlfriend" cuts were omitted from his set, something that would only bug annoying, obsessive fanboys (like me -- why didn't I get to hear "Your Sweet Voice"?!?)
This largely didn't matter, what with the incomparable opening trio of "Divine Intervention," "I've Been Waiting" and the title track. All three are jangly, harmony-drenched classics, on the level with best material of Sweet's most obvious influences (e.g., Big Star, ELO, Cheap Trick).
But as the set progressed, I remembered what a sad album "Girlfriend" is. "You can't see how I matter in this world," the 47-year-old sang during a stunning take on the ballad "You Don't Love Me." Later on in the song, when confronted with the fact that his wife no longer wants him, all the narrator can say is "I guess that's OK."
If you weren't paying attention to the words, though, all you would've heard was song after song of searing, blues-inflected, melody-conscious guitar playing. Lead axe man Dennis Taylor handled all of the solos, mimicking Sweet's runs from the album admirably. And when the band pulled out the "100% Fun" standout "Sick Of Myself" to close things, they let it all hang out -- Sweet pounded out the tune's three chords, leaned into its delightfully self-deprecating chorus and ended things with a cacophony of false endings, full of feedback-drenched catharsis.
Deadline constraints meant I could only catch the first three tunes of headliner Built to Spill, whose dreamy, Neil Young-meets-shoegaze sound is propelled by a trio of guitar players, which amassed some impressive mope-rock walls of sound.
Bandleader, singer and lead guitarist Doug Martsch is a trip to see perform; while delivering some righteous, heady solos, he gets in some kind of a trance, his head nodding, his body experiencing little seizures that jerk right with the rhythm.
And if you were lucky enough to catch opening act Hey Rosetta! you know that this sextet's elegant, contemplative brand of art rock is really something special.
Thursday at the Harbor with Built to Spill, Matthew Sweet
WHEN: Thursday evening
WHERE: Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf