For festival-goers and music lovers here in town, January in Boston messes with the mind. The temperature outside consistently hovers under the freezing mark, threats of snowstorms fill up our news feeds, and the term “wintry mix” becomes part of the everyday lexicon. At the same time, news and lineups for spring and summer festivals like Coachella, Boston Calling, and Bonnaroo break up the winter weather alerts, giving us a tease of warmer, more vibrant times far off on the calendar’s horizon.
Last night at The Sinclair in Cambridge, however, New York City duo The Knocks transported us forward to spring. Playing to a sold-out crowd — their first stop on the Route 55 Tour, which hypes debut LP 55, out March 4 via Big Beat/Neon Gold — the Knocks made the Harvard Square club feel much less like a frigid indoor venue in early stages of winter and so much more like an outdoor festival in the heat of summer.
Since I first heard “Blackout” by The Knocks six years ago, I knew these two guys from were destined to be, erm, a knockout live act. (“Blackout,” with its piano riff, still remains a great record.) Fast forward to today and our protagonists, B-Roc and JPatt, are ready for the big stage after released a handful of EPs and countless singles.
The Route 55 Tour cleverly allows The Knocks to build some hype around the forthcoming album as well as pepper in some deep cuts, feeling very much like a celebration of how far The Knocks have come. Deservedly so, too, for these guys have been around since before David Guetta released “Titanium” and sound just as fresh today as they did back then. (Can we say the same for Guetta? No.)
B-Rock and JPatt opened with “Brightside” — almost as far back in their catalog as “Blackout” — and ever the hit with what appeared to be a predominantly college-aged crowd. 2014’s collaboration with X Ambassadors, “Comfortable,” was also a crowd-pleaser. And this is where it got interesting: instead of remaining stationed behind their very functional but very aesthetically cagey drums-keys-pads-pedals-and-mic stand set-up, JPatt broke free and charmed the front-row fans. He gave maybe six of them the chance to sing the chorus of “Comfortable” back to him and the rest of The Sinclair. I’ve seen The Knocks in concert twice before, and here’s why JPatt coming out from behind his keyboard was significant: because in the times that I’ve seen The Knocks, my biggest wish was that the duo interacted more with their audiences. It was so refreshing to see that last night, particularly because The Knocks just came across as so damn fun on stage.
The brand-spanking new song, “Kiss the Sky”, featuring Wyclef Jean, was an exciting change of pace, too. JPatt introduced the song with an a capella rap that then exploded, thanks to B-Roc’s rhythmic skills, into a full-on dance hall. “Dancing with the DJ,” “Collect My Love” and “Classic” — which saw opener Sofi Tukker take on Powers’ guest vocal — were equally explosive. It felt like the first day of spring break 2016 without all of the bros. Okay, maybe a few of the bros.
The performance of the night, however, came from an unidentified new song that I’d described in my notes as follows: “Hands-down best song of the night. Lyrics include a line about spotlights and getting the ‘spot right.’ Combines the early Knocks days with the minimalism of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ and Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You out of My Head.’” The track in question may be “Hit the Spot” by The Knocks’ shelved debut album, Endisco, but I can’t confirm that. All I know is that it was catchy in a way that none of the other songs from the Route 55 Tour were: subtle, downplayed, but sexy and in your face. JPatt’s bass riffs added a thump that none of the other songs had, either. To the powers that be on The Knocks’ team: if this is the track I’m thinking it is, please push for “Hit the Spot” to be the next single immediately. Radio, and spring break, won’t be ready.