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Devotees and first-timers to the Dance Hall Crashers experience have sought refuge in the Middle East basement from the blistering breezes, eagerly awaiting any glint of the band's presence. The last two times the band cruised through the Boston area, they were eclipsed once by a horrible snowstorm and another time by Bad Religion. But they've happily returned after a long hiatus in support of their new album, Honey, I'm Homely, a less-than-glowing follow-up to the beaming Lockjaw. With the opportunity to regain some composure after stumbling through this latest release, the Dance Hall Crashers (DHC) have no choice but to come back with a comfortable, renewed vibrance.
Once the band takes the stage, the expectant crowd knows what will follow: a consistent deluge of supercharged pop ditties, flavored with a hint of ska to keep the fans on their feet. From the outset, DHC never sinks into the mediocrity of Honey, I'm Homely. For almost an hour, the California quinlet instead offers a little sunshine to ward off the inevitable autumn harbinger of the approaching cold. The audience has no problem immediately warming up and DHC crank out song after song without any disappointment. Whether jumping in unison to the band's appeal or shouting along to favorite tunes, the crowd never stops consuming the band's energy and feeding off of it like a necessary drug.
There is no secret to the band's success: DHC brandishes essential elements of an enjoyable concert--a charged symbiosis with the listeners, perfect synchronicity among band members and a grab-bag array of songs highlighting the best parts of their music catalog. But what makes the band's live spectacle shine is the dynamic interaction of vocalists Elyse Rogers and Karina Denike. Although few bands could pull off a lead female singing duo, Rogers and Denike stregthen each other to create a brightly bold melodic complement, serving to gloss over the girls' disenchanted lyrical matter in a joyful purge. It almost seems, though, that if they were separated to perform as solo voices for more than their accustomed short sonic soliloquies, their individual efforts would eventually sound deflated and anything but resilient.
If any negative thoughts do arise like this one during the concert, they are quickly dispersed as the girls continuously bop around the stage, leaving no time for criticism if keeping up with the performance is a priority. At times, Rogers and Denike regroup at center stage to sing, smile and shout in each others' faces, only to split again and head straight for the throbbing audience. Working their way around the leading ladies, guitarist Jason Hammon and bassist Mikey Weiss pump out DHC's musical foundation along with the stationary but flailing drummer Gavin Hammon. Despite the necessity of the male instrumentalists, the dominant presence of the band is the unique female pair that keep the crowd entranced and energized with every beat and syllable.
Rogers and Denike's in-your-face flamboyance complements the disproportionately low number of songs played from Honey, I'm Homely to make the show even more enjoyable. Most bands tend to showcase new material, but DHC makes a wise set list decision by including only some of the standouts on the recent album ("Lost Again," "Elvis & Me," "Whisky & Gin" and "Mr. Blue"). Many songs are straight from Lockjaw, including the punchy, bitter-sweet, nostalgic. "Shelly," and "Enough," their closest chance at breaking through to the pop radio realm. DHC even reaches back into their earlier days with "Skinhead Barbecue" and "He wants Me Back." On the latter, Rogers and Denike, invite a group of girls up on stage to sing along, emphasizing the band's respect for an actively involved audience, especially the female contingent.
Keeping the fans happy during a live setting is really what DHC does best. The constraints of studio recordings bottle their energy in a neat package with the edges smoothed out. But the real DHC experience is an interaction of the band with the audience, a mutual infusion and reflection of energy and emotion. After seeing the band once, one looks forward to their return because in concert they iron out life's daily stress by pumping melodic hooks and cathartic chants reaching out to every listener.
But then comes the revelation of the last note in a great performance, as one tries to hold on to the break from reality that DHC accomplishes so well. Although the next show seems too far away, the Dance Hall Crashers know they are a necessary constant. As the last song passes, the momentary despair turns to anticipation, which will grow and culminate just as it did before this show, as the cycle begins anew.
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