Now that two-thirds of this year's Thursday at the Harbor concert series is in the books, I think it's pretty safe to say it's a success.
What a spacious, welcoming, fan-friendly concert experience, at a venue that showcases our city from a gorgeous, long-ignored perspective. And as if that wasn't enough, this year's bookings are more robust than I ever remember them being at the Square, with the selection of the opening acts receiving as much careful attention as the headliners.
This Thursday's show featured one of the several impressive double bills on the schedule (I'm still in the afterglow of Matthew Sweet and Built to Spill), pairing the seasoned, ambitious guitar pop of Gomez with the cheeky, Hall & Oates-biting pop of the burgeoning Hamilton, Ont., group The Arkells.
The fact that Buffalonians can stroll down to the water after work and see a band like Gomez give an opening set is a gift, plain and simple. And the relatively sparse crowd who did just that was in for quite a treat.
This UK quintet has been one of the most versatile, hipster-friendly ensembles going since '96, with its members swapping instruments and lead vocal duties like Pokemon cards. Ben Ottewell, Ian Bell and Tom Gray all sang and played guitar beautifully during this set, each lending their own idiosyncrasies to their material.
Ottewell's hulking, James Hetfield-ish presence clashed with the powerful quaver of his voice on goosebump-raising beauties like "Revolutionary Kind," "See the World" and "Ping One Down." Bell's numbers were more angular and groove-based, and Gray preferred infectious power pop hooks like those of "Girlshapedlovedrug."
The uniting factor of the setwas a common appreciation of the earnest, jangly soul of R.E.M.
Whether it was a bouncy acoustic pop song, a dynamic art rock epic or a groovy relationship eulogy, Gomez's spot-on balance of hooks and melodrama revealed an affection for Stipe & Company's thoughtfully addictive college rock.
By the time Gomez was finishing up things — with a sensationally dynamic "How We Operate" — the crowd had filled up the area by the stage. And I imagine that a large majority of these folks were smiling big as The Arkells dished out their brand of caffeinated sunshine.
The obvious comparison to make for this ball of energy of a band is The Killers, who found success fusing '80s synths with punk posturing and Springsteen pretentiousness in the last decade.
The Arkells did all those things on Thursday — even breaking into "Darkness On the Edge of Town" at one point. But unlike The Killers, these young men aren't ones for putting on airs, sounding more like a really tight party band, dipping into the choruses of crowd-pleasing covers and blathering non-stop between songs (in a lovable way). And their Hall & Oates influence is something to be mighty proud of. Their simple pop melodies possess a hint of blue-eyed soul that places them firmly above the mall punk fray.
Thursday at the Harbor with The Arkells
WHEN: Thursday eveningWHERE: Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf