It's a joy to watch War Tapes' self-esteem and song craft increasingly outshine their CD collections. While the local quartet’s early efforts (like “Supposed Human,” aired tonight) might have had Interpol's attorneys reaching for the phones, lately their hefty hooks, deft ‘n dramatic dynamics and road-honed connection (they've toured with The Bravery and Tiger Army and opened for Smashing Pumpkins) are smearing stylistic lines. Last night's show, like the debut EP it celebrated, found War Tapes spreading their emotional spectrum, from Cure-ish cascades of glacial guitars and hands-wringing angst to almost pseudo-show tune sensibilities and dashboard-lit, late night laments.
Youthful front-man Neil Popkin is the best and worst thing about War Tapes: his gentlemanly Sisters Of Mercy baritone and icon antics — while both in the love-'em-or-hate-'em category — are the crucial centerpieces of his band's sound and vision, yet his Morrissey-meets-Mussolini gesticulating seems more learned than felt and it's that voice, though ever-developing, that keeps the Joy Division/Bravery comparisons coming. His charmingly tireless will to win over – and that of the similarly kinetic, coming-way-out-of-his-shell guitarist Matt Bennett (the only War Tape unrelated to the others) – nonetheless made admirable inroads into a Club Moscow crowd that, though shoulder-to-shoulder, seemed more keen to be seen than to see.
At the end of the night, despite a mix that squashed Popkin's voice like a police scanner and reduced his stylish sister Becca's angelic backing vocals to almost subliminal messages, great pop songs like “Always Falling” and “She Lied” imply that War Tapes are cooking-up a world-class first album. When Popkin enjoyed moments of teen-rock fantasy — cute gals gyrating around him on stage; brief singing-while-crowd-surfing — you couldn't begrudge him a bit of it.
By Paul Rogers
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