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OSLO
at the Key Club, May 24

Record labels are only recently realizing that not every post-college-age buyer is satiated by R.E.M. best-ofs or Pixies re-releases; there’s an untapped market of Jetta-setters who crave new guitar music that resonates with their experience. Hence the industry buzz around local acts like Orson, and tonight’s main event, Oslo — essentially Mattia Borrani (vocals/guitar), No Doubt touring multi-instrumentalist Gabrial McNair (guitar/vocals) and Kerry James (bass), augmented onstage by drummer Joey Barnes and keysman Damon Ramirez.

As on their recent debut disc, Oslo get under way with the constellation guitar, Peter Hook–ish bass and detached vocals of “The Stranger,” an entrancing piece of songcraft and arrangement, but straight from the files of Interpol. “My Soul” shows more personality: dance-inspired beats, Cure-ish guitar; imagine Ian Curtis (after a few lessons) singing.

Beneath ethereal washes, Oslo’s presentation is more elegant than energized, though the self-aware Mattia, in carefully torn T-shirt, indulges in some welcome angst-Pilates and Reznor-ish microphone-hanging. He’s an effective, if affected, focus between the upright James and the dread-hawked McNair, who becomes the inner self of his all-skanking No Doubt persona. Oslo reheat Blur’s lost-boy longing with “Minute Gun,” then overcook it with “For All It’s Worth” ’s ludicrous London accent and shabby Coxon-ite guitar, before finishing firmly with the segmented, majestic menace of “One Last Fling.”

Oslo’s strength is fusing ’80s guitar pop with the “Bristol Sound” beats and electronica of Tricky, Portishead and Massive Attack, to spawn a hi-fi hybrid that’s driving and melodramatic, yet evocative and danceable. The problem is that, while Oslo steeped this sound for four years, others (Puressence, Interpol) microwaved similar recipes straight to radio, leaving our lads playing catch-up. But who needs that game? Oslo have the chops, tunes and aura to influence rather than be influenced. It’s time for a liberating leap into originality’s embrace.


—Paul Rogers


AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD,
(THE INTERNATIONAL) NOISE CONSPIRACY
at the Wiltern, May 26

The excess and bluster of rock shows past has mostly become an ironic smile, a tongue-in-cheek guitar windmill, a self-conscious headbang. Fortunately, bands like Austin’s Trail of Dead still smash their equipment and frantically pump their fists without a trace of self-reflective rumination. In spite of their weak recent release, Worlds Apart, TOD’s homage to punk and indie rock of yore finds its way easily onstage, especially in front of a highly appreciative crowd.

The night began with Sweden’s (The International) Noise Conspiracy, all matching uniforms, raised-fist “rawk” swagger and revolutionary garage anthems. Though INC highlighted their left-wing politics, even more inspiring was singer Dennis Lyxzen’s patented move — throwing his mike in the air and bouncing it off his crotch.

TOD took the stage next. The Wiltern is a long way from the Fold, the band’s L.A. stop just a few years ago, but this six-piece incarnation filled it out. Furious hardcore muscle spasms of throttle-rock mixed with pot-haze slow burners are their bread and butter. These dynamic shifts played out effectively live, as Conrad Keely and Jason Reece switched from guitar to drums to vocals often throughout the set, storming through songs like “Another Morning Stoner” (outstanding!) and “Will You Smile Again?” (uninspiring!). The guitar smashing began midway through the show (bless those major-label bucks; replacement guitars ain’t cheap) and continued to a drum-trashing finale. Destruction is entertaining, but the apex came in the form of an invitation — readily accepted by what looked like half the audience — for the kids to climb up onstage for the last song. Yes, despite all their faults, TOD brought the rock, a concept they obviously still believe in.

—Jonah Flicker

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