Friday night was the first of what is shaping up to be one of the greatest semesters of concerts at Penn State in recent history. We Are Scientists played what was probably the most entertaining concert I’ve been to at Penn State. For all of you off canning this weekend, here’s a recap of what you missed.
Though the doors opened a bit late due to a longer than anticipated sound check, the night ran smoothly. Before the show even started, Keith Murray, lead singer and guitarist of We Are Scientists was at the band’s merch table, chatting with the early crowd, mostly apologizing for a shortage of men’s t-shirts (which were all apparently bought the night before at their show in D.C.).
Before the main event, two openers took the stage. In regards to the first, The Exclusive Document, it would be too kind to call them a let down. Citing influences including Bob Dylan, Blink-182, Third Eye Blind and Cursive (honestly check out their myspace for the whole list, it’s a riot) their attempts at cross-genre composition were all failed ones. It’s rare that I actually finding myself actively disliking a band, but The Exclusive Document seemed to be trying their hardest to earn a place beside Lady Gaga and Akon in my personal hall of musical shame. Their lyrics, if you could call them that, consisted of short phrases repeated ad nauseam (at least “revolution” rhymes with “revolution”). All this was compounded by the fact that not one of their four vocalists could be called a singer and their sound was incoherent at best. In short, they managed to distill every element of alternative rock I dislike and cram them into a thirty minute set.
Fortunately, the other opener, British Phil, redeemed the State College music scene, playing a great set of their signature “swamp troll rock”. Their modern take on bluegrass and blues included face melting guitar solos and a guest beat-boxer, yet still managed to capture the essence of the genre. While the group is still relatively new to the scene, it was obvious that they took performing seriously playing a tight set, even with improvised solo sections and three-part vocal harmony.
The highlight of the evening, of course, was We Are Scientists themselves. Though I’ve listened to them since their second album, With Love and Squalor, I didn’t really know what to expect from their live show. Fortunately they did not disappoint. The set consisted of an even mix of material, including newer hits such as “After Hours” and older songs that bassist Chris Cain described as being written “while most of those in the crowd were 4 to 8 years old”. This didn’t stop anyone from getting into the music however, with spontaneous mosh pits erupting in the crowd and several crowd-surfers making their way around the room.
The group managed to sound simultaneously raw and refined, letting amps feedback and distort while still making every song sound as tight as they do on the album. Keith Murray spent nearly as much time interacting with the crowd as he did performing, which only added to the experience. Before they even started playing, he had some fun with the classic “We Are…Penn State” chant, relishing the irony created by his own band’s name. They also seemed excited to be at the #1 Party School in the nation, soliciting party invitations written on bills, as well as several other random items. When someone threw a box of candy cigarettes onstage, Murray took one and sang the next song flawlessly with one hanging off his lip the entire time. All in all, you could tell the band was having the time of their life onstage, and that attitude was infectious. My only hope is that they had a good enough time afterwards to warrant a return visit in the near future.