Room For Squares

A sign beside the thick single door into the Upstairs at the Middle East Club in Central Square proclaims the room’s capacity to be 194 people. A glimpse into the club last Friday however left one with the distinct impression that such an official sounding regulation was little more than ceremonial. Indeed, the spirited crowd looked to number well over 200 as the Kickovers, one of Boston’s up-and-coming pop-punk bands, put on a frenetic and energetic show. Although ostensibly opening for Brenden Benson and the Well Fed Boys (who gained prominence recently from their tour in support of the White Stripes), the Kickovers have attracted enough attention in their hometown to gain a sizable audience of their own—and with good reason.

The resumes make them worthy of attention even without listening to their music; they are led by singer-guitarist Nate Albert, formerly of Boston legends the Mighty Mighty Bosstones; album drummer Joe Sirois still plays for the Bosstones, though he is replaced on tour by the capable Jamie Vavra. Guitarist Johnny Rioux was once the ‘Tones’ guitar tech, and bassist Mickey Welsh is hardly anonymous either: he used to play with Weezer. The band came together informally last fall, but found themselves a band when their studio sessions were reported by VH1. Their first release, Osaka, was issued this past April by the newly formed independent label Fenway Records and received positive reviews, although limited in coverage.

This past Friday they rocked out at the Middle East, a club that needs little introduction for Cambridge music fans. Although the Downstairs traditionally plays host to bands as popular as the Kickovers, the more compressed Upstairs venue seemed a perfect fit for the Kickover’s manic punk energy. A smaller room than its Downstairs counterpart, the upstairs features a small stage up front, a large dance floor, and a bar along the side. The audience filled the room to capacity (and, some might suggest, above and beyond), but it never felt uncomfortable. Rather, it felt familiar; there was no need for a “What’s up Boston!” to create a sense of audience-band familiarity; you can’t get much more Boston than the Kickovers.

The Kickovers played a set that leapt without pause from song to song, featuring the majority of their tracks from Osaka, with a few new ones thrown in. Although surprisingly little dancing or moshing broke out in the crowd, their appreciation was clear. Alas, this is one of the tradeoffs of the intimate crowd—fewer numbers means people tend to feel more self-conscious and less likely to lose themselves in the anonymity of the crowd.

It’s frills-free at the Middle East; one of the joys of the venue is that its bands enjoy little star treatment and as such, behave like real people. The Kickovers, like other bands at the club, carried their instruments and equipment on and off the stage and, like other bands at the club, later found their way into the crowd for a beer and a chat. Axis and Avalon may host better-known artists, but for a good and intimate show that reminds you what fun music is really about, the Middle East is hard to beat. The Kickovers will no doubt be returning, and when they do, make sure you’re one of the 194 people inside the door.

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