After promising earlier this year that I would make a concerted effort to support local bands, finally last night I decided that I was in the mood for some live music. I headed out to a show at The Middle East Upstairs, featuring four Boston-area bands: Left Hand Does, Thick As Thieves, This Car Up & The Shills. I had given them all a quick listen first on MySpace and they sounded very cool and indie rock & pop-ish, with some pretty melodic stuff mixed in – just what I wanted.

Before I start to bitch about something here, let me first say that these are all really good bands, and I had a great time. I would encourage everyone out there to not only go to shows of your favorite artists when they come to town, but to take a chance on people you may not have heard before and support your local musicians, wherever you may be. MySpace makes it so damn easy now. You don’t even have to risk not liking something; have a listen first.

Now for my rant. A suggestion to bands out there who may be reading this: just because you’re playing in front of an audience doesn’t mean you have to try to rip people’s faces off. If you have pretty, melodic, folksy singer-songwriter type songs, it’s ok to play some stuff gently and softly (even in a skanky, dirty bar), so folks can enjoy them as they were intended. Now, I do realize you’re in Boston, and maybe it’s because of our driving habits and generally aggressive, foul temperament that you think we don’t like music unless it’s thrashy and loud and makes your ears bleed. But it’s just not true. Especially if you’re playing at a place like the Middle East Upstairs, the size and shape of a shoebox (and I say that lovingly). Yes, I’m old, but it’s not just that. I like to be able to actually hear stuff once in a while. Have a fighting chance of maybe being able to make out the lyrics. All four of these bands, at least on their MySpace pages, have music that’s multi-layered with subtleties that I didn’t hear very much of last night. Not to say that I don’t enjoy my share of thrashy rock, but mix it up a little, especially if a particular song calls for a different approach. Don’t worry about that drunk headbanger two feet in front of your face, nor the sloshed young girls (who are new to inebriation and don’t know how to do it properly yet) talking throughout the entire set, spilling drinks and falling into everyone. Play for those people who came to listen to your music.

Ok, first impressions, not having heard these bands before, and purely subjective…

Left Hand Does – really sorry I missed part of your set (I’m North Shore-challenged, which makes those “first band of four in Central Square” early evening sets a bit iffy), but I think you guys are terrific and I’ll definitely make a point of seeing you again. Standouts for me (based on the 4-5 songs I heard): something with the line “I like your shoes, but I hate your face”, and “Airplanes”, which was very cool with some awesome keyboards. It’s interesting that among their influences they mention Crowded House and Split Enz, because I definitely got that “Kiwi quirkiness” from them, which I really like.

Thick as Thieves – Another band I will investigate further. Two guys on guitars (Aaron Benson and Tyler Littwin), keyboards, bass & drums, sounding really good, and hints of some really nice stuff underneath that “in-your-face barroom scrappiness”, which caught my attention.

This Car Up – Again, two “dueling guitars” which sounded great together, keyboards, bass, and some guy named George on drums. Very quirky, fun guys. Nice vocal harmonies. But again, the more melodic songs on their MySpace page didn’t totally come across (to me, anyway), I think just because it was too loud. Maybe it’s also the sound in that room, not sure. It’s certainly not the worst in town (the old Paradise back in the 90’s takes that particular award), but maybe still not so great.

The Shills – This was actually my least favorite, even though they were the headliners and obviously have a decent following of hardcore fans. It comes down to personal preference; they were decent musicians and put on a highly energetic show, but just not my thing. It may have been the high-pitched vocals, which I’ve never really been a huge fan of, unless it’s part of a wide vocal range (as in the case of Rocco DeLuca, one of my favorites). But again, all this is obviously subjective. Oh, I’ll also say that they have a sax player who I really would have liked to hear more of; either it was just my hearing in that room, or he was mixed way down.

Jesus, I sound really critical! But hey, 3 out of 4 isn’t bad, especially for my first time hearing any of them. And there’s nothing like leaving those four walls and checking out your struggling local bands, showing them some support. True, Boston has an amazing music scene, but you never know, your little town in the middle of nowhere might have some awesome band waiting to be discovered…

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