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A Short Spin

Photo by Niclas Stenholm

MANDO DIAO, LAO at the Troubadour, November 24

Lao’s high-energy set was surprisingly tight for an emo-hardcore-post-grunge amalgam. Or, at the very least, the band had what it took to get the body moving, thanks to the way bassist Adam Paul’s downward pick-thrusts locked in with drummer Philip Lee’s double-kick thunder. If only singer Blake Kasemeier hadn’t gotten his moves from the Eddie Vedder school of rock: Holding the microphone upside down and spreading his arms in messiah-like rapture was merely irritating, but when he began to climb the scaffolding and emote from on high, it was plain embarrassing. “I’m gonna use this stage as a vehicle to give you your voice back,” he bellowed at one point. Ick.

Maybe opposites don’t always attract, but sometimes they share the same bill. Next to the Lao experience, Mando Diao’s choreography looked as effortless as a Broadway troupe’s. Beginning several tunes with their backs to the audience, Gustaf Noren, Björn Dixgård and Carl-Johan Fogelklou would, one by one, spin around like a Motown girl group or some Top of the Pops concoction. The retro-fixated Swedes were enjoying themselves as much as we were; you could see it in their body language and drummer Samuel Giers’ easy laugh. Unlike countrymen the Hives, with their strained zaniness and aspirations to Velvet Underground–level cred, Mando dazzle without trying — the very definition of cool. Thus unburdened, they’re free to play the music they love.

Which is what exactly? The Animals comparison is a given, especially on “To China With Love” and “Mr. Moon,” but why stop there? M.D.’s Bring ’Em In is a carefully cultivated, stylistic grab bag lifted from Nuggets-type acts (the tunes fairly float on Daniel Haglund’s Hammond B3–esque featherbed), and therein lies the group’s charm: The more you try to nail them down, the more nonspecific they seem.

Considering Mando played Spaceland just three weeks earlier, perhaps tour fatigue was setting in; they delivered a paltry six tunes. (Headlining band, a half-hour late, and we get six tunes!) True, they have only one album to work from, but this abbreviated performance, with no encore granted, felt more like an industry teaser than a proper gig. Not too cool, man.