Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Soundclash’s two battling bands make for one successful night

At: the House of Blues, Monday

Strictly speaking, the word “versus’’ refers to a competition. In the world of online remixes, however, where songs from disparate artists are stitched together into hybrid mash-ups, it takes on the opposite meaning. The Red Bull Soundclash performance on Monday night at the House of Blues — featuring Washington, D.C., rapper Wale vs. Ontario indie rockers Tokyo Police Club — split the difference between those two polar definitions.

The night was set up like a contest, with one winner declared by crowd reaction; but it was also a collaborative effort, or rather a “musical conversation.’’ The bands faced one another on opposing stages, taking turns playing, covering one another’s songs, or experimenting in improvised genre-excursions. It’s a brilliant premise, and the perfect distillation of Internet culture’s short attention span.

They call it a Soundclash for a reason though. Pitting a charismatic, party-starting hip-hop and go-go band against a shouty, introspective indie rock act may not have been fair in terms of getting a reaction from the crowd. All the same, the contrasting styles made for a rare unscripted night of surprises.

Wale and his 6-piece band tore through a funky blast of get-your-hands-up jams, like his groupie-love hit “Pretty Girls.’’ Tokyo Police Club, a band of wiry 20-somethings, ripped it up with their stop-and-start, down-stroke guitar and janky keyboard riffs on songs like “Tessellate’’ with nervy aplomb. It was more fun to hear both bands play the same cover back to back, Tom Petty’s “American Girl’’ in this case.

Later rounds saw them stopping mid-song and tagging in the other band to finish, or performing their own songs in a country or thrashing punk style. It was like watching a band at work in the rehearsal space toying around with arrangements (“Dude, what if we tried this one as a punk song?’’). Tokyo Police Club singer Dave Monks assured the crowd before one of his band’s assignments, “Just because I’m Irish, doesn’t mean I can’t play reggae.’’ He may have been wrong; TPC proved better suited to its own material, like the careening keyboard runs and yearning hooks of “Your English Is Good.’’

By the end of the night Wale and his crack band had won the exhibition of skill, but from an audience perspective, everyone came out on top.

Boston Globe

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