By all appearances, they rank among the most prominent active acts residing in the loosely-defined emo subgenre. Epitaph Records — quite possibly the most recognizable “punk” label of the last quarter-century — released 2015’s Harmlessness, TWIABP’s latest full-length. So it’s not as if the Connecticut group are a buncha nobodies.
Still, if the continued popularity of, for instances, Radiohead and Tool evinces a giant potential audience for brainy, moody rock music, surely TWIABP demand enough crossover appeal to top the marquee — without a co-headliner — somewhere more spacious than the less-than 200 capacity Middle East Upstairs. In a more tangible sense, the fact that they packed their Friday night (January 27) stop in the historic Cambridge venue to the proverbial gills demonstrates the same.
Going in, I harbored some concerns that the room’s notoriously hit-or-miss sound system may struggle to accommodate the sheer bulk of TWIABP. Following the addition of an auxiliary trumpet, the collective swelled to an eight-piece before the evening’s final song. My worries wound up 50 percent justified. Feedback and warbly microphones hampered “Smoke & Felt” off their exquisite split with The Sorority Noise, although one could argue that the mechanical hiccups added character to the execution made it sound more, in the parlance of an aging, fading generation, “punk.” In any case, the glitches didn’t last. Most conspicuously, the band summoned their penultimate setlist inclusion, “I Can Be Afraid of Anything” into an immense, impeccable actuality.
Between-song instrumental transitions tiptoed the razor-thin line between inspiration and self-indulgence. Rollicking crowd-inciters like “The Word Lisa” evened out the meditative bents of “Eyjafjallajokull Dance” and their ruminative ilk. To the audible disgruntlement of somebody’s grumpy dad, The Middle East lifted its semi-standard age restriction for TWIABP’s sub-voting age fans, challenging the ensemble to deliver a satisfying set inside of an hour, before an 11 p.m cut-off. Considering how many TWIABP tracks hover around the eight-minute mark, this was not the simplest proposition, yet nothing about their performance resonated as abbreviated.
You might not expect a band with a compound sentence for a name and a barely consistent lineup of mutable size to wield a keen instinct for proportion, but, well, here we are.
Boston openers Animal Flag didn’t warm up the crowd so much as dunk it in a barrel of gasoline, set it on fire, and teleport it directly into the sun. Singer-songwriter Paige Chaplin preceded the aforementioned eardrum-annihilation, and by never playing and looking at the crowd simultaneously, gave the impression that she was serenading some marvelous invisible creature walking around on the ceiling.