at Avalon, February 21

Spectacle has never been a big factor in indie rock. But NYC’s Frenchkiss Records, run by Les Savy Fav’s Syd Butler, seems determined to inject some. On the kickoff night for a jaunt to Australia, three of the label’s core bands plus friends Swearing at Motorists gradually ramped up a slope of rock-show posturing that took a sharp turn skyward with LSF’s headlining spot.

Swearing at Motorists started with their almost-emo tales of smoking pot, alcohol-tinged relationships and bartenders whose lives are Townes Van Zandt songs — bread and butter to the Dayton-based two-piece. The power-chord bedrock of Dave Doughman’s songwriting catharsis can fill up even a near-empty venue, and his jumping and rocking out would probably have been just as furious if they were playing a basement show to four college kids.

With Thunderbirds Are Now, the spectacle level jumped a few notches. Yeah, the kids love this band, but TAN’s ridiculous energy can’t hide the fact that their music is more style than substance. Without the keyboard player and his somersaults, wouldn’t this be just another power-pop group with high-pitched vocals and punk-rock riffing? Still, it was a smart signing for Frenchkiss. When TAN launched into a dancey, bass-heavy interlude, you could just picture the Fav folding their arms backstage, wearing proud smiles.

Next, Craig Finn and the Hold Steady calmly stormed the stage with their sermons of hood-rat friends and Charlemagne in sweats. Everyone talks about these elder statesmen being an indie-rock bar band, and dammit if that’s not the case. Shades of Springsteen and even the Clash crept through their raucous but calculated rawwwwk; a few guitar spins and fingers in the air helped things along. Finn’s maniacal rants continued even when he was off-mike, shouting unheard ravings during the numerous guitar solos and occasionally shutting his yap long enough to play his own ax. The Hold Steady owned the night thus far.

But it was the Fav, as expected, who broke the needle off the spectacle meter, beginning with Tim Harrington’s preshow crowd greeting/kissing/hugging. Here’s a lead singer who loves to be touched by his audience — on his beard, his belly, his bald head – and you’ll get touched back if you’re not careful. Of course, the point is never to be careful, and the kids threw caution to the wind at this particularly chaotic but extremely awesome LSF performance, which ranged from taut post-punk to new-wave noise-skronk. Though the set was plagued by technical problems with the bass amp, it was hard to give a shit — the band didn’t. “You’re not here for polish and pretense,” Harrington suggested several minutes after fellating a banana and spitting chunks of it into eager audience members’ mouths. Once again, the Fav proved that indie rock can be seriously good at not being serious.

—Jonah Flicker

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