If uncoolness is a life obstacle, the four members of Hollerado have hurdled it with clever power pop and more than little bit of confetti.
And black-light paint. Can’t forget the black-light paint.
The Canadian indie rockers brought their show – and a healthy throng of rowdy-dancing fans – to Town Ballroom on Friday night. It was like a garage-band house party, with beer cups raised and pockets of moshing, but done up bigger than the ones you’d see in your school days.
That’s because Hollerado has been at this for a while. The Ottawa band formed in 2007 and has steadily built a following over the course of several tours and two albums. It’s not a huge audience – just under 16,000 Twitter followers and 21,000 Facebook fans – but it’s a wildly dedicated one.
Which is all a band needs.
Judging by the Buffalo audience, Hollerado’s following comprises mostly former ’90s kids, now in their late 20s and early 30s – old enough to legally raise their beer cups in tribute, and young enough to still enjoy a little bruise-inducing dancing.
After an opening set by the Toronto band Wildlife, whose echoing vocals and stylized string arrangements seemed inspired by U2, Hollerado took the stage in a burst of confetti. (Their stagehands shot cannons of colored paper into the audience three more times through the 75-minute show.)
Lead singer Menno Versteeg marched through songs from both of the band’s albums, last year’s “White Paint” and 2009’s “Record in a Bag.” He twice paid tribute to Mohawk Place, the legendary Buffalo music club that closed in 2013. Versteeg even dedicated the evening’s final number, a cover of Blink 182’s “Dammit,” to Mohawk, a tiny dive of a venue that put top-notch musical acts face-to-face with fans.
Hollerado thrives on that type of close contact with its cultlike following. Multiple times Friday night, Versteeg stepped across the photo pit and into the crowd. He shared the microphone for “Americanarama,” a grunge-pop tune punctuated by a series of “doot doo do’s” that made audience participation all the easier.
The connection was evident offstage, too. Hours before their Buffalo show, Hollerado tweeted a photo of their tour van, a 2007 Ford Econoline, with 217,000 miles and graffiti – including a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – splattered across the white exterior.
“Who wants to trade something rad for our tour van?” they asked.
Like their van, the members of Hollerado have character. They dress simply; Versteeg’s decidedly un-jazzy black t-shirt emblazoned with “Antarctica” across the chest was the jazziest thing they wore. But their staging, lyrics and sound are simultaneously simple and nuanced; colorful at a glance, with subtle messages woven in.
Hollerado’s song recipe includes equal parts emotion, mystique and, at times, self deprecation. In the bouncy tune “Pick Me Up,” Versteeg sang, “We are young and in love. We are twirling through space. I’m the luckiest around in the loneliest place.”
Intentionally or not, that space reference was brought to life by the band’s large ceiling-to-floor backdrop, which hung directly behind drummer Jake Boyd. To the naked eye, it was blank, save for “Hollerado” painted across the top.
But as the band’s set began and regular lighting gave way to black lights, the backdrop came alive with a series of painted constellations, moons, lightning bolts, ringed planets and shooting stars. The guitars played by Versteeg and Nixon Boyd, along with Dean Baxter’s bass, also glowed with splatters of paint.
“Nixon is going to do laps around a star and turn into a million-billion chunks,” Versteeg said.
“Jake is going to get a lightning bolt in the face,” Nixon Boyd added.
Was it funny?
In a nerdy-charming way, yes. And that’s the point. In an exclaim.ca article last year, music journalist Alex Hudson complimented Versteeg by calling the band “uncool.”
“We’ve never been cool,” Versteeg agreed, adding that music “is a way to overcome that.”
It works. Ask the grown-up ’90s kids. Being uncool may not be the new black. But add a little black-light paint, and you can pull it off.