During the optimism-charged 1990s, any multi-band bill worth its distortion pedals would have, in addition to its merchandise tables, volunteers offering political consciousness-raising on behalf of copacetic causes. Saturday night, the Paradise provided a throwback to those times: The show, boasting a bill stacked with some of the brightest lights from that era of brainy, hooky Boston music, was part of the Boston Stands series of concerts benefiting the American Civil Liberties Union.
Bill Janovitz, frontman and guitarist of Buffalo Tom, started the night off with a stripped-down set that culminated in a propulsive cover of New Order’s urgent “Age of Consent,” with his guy-and-guitar setup accentuating the synth-pop track’s rolling rhythm. The long-running band the Gravel Pit, whose members Jed Parish and Ed Valauskas helped organize the bill, played elliptical yet crisp guitar pop with knotty lyrics.
A surprise appearance by the beloved roof-raisers the Sheila Divine gave way to a shambolic set by Lemonheads leader Evan Dando. He supplied the night’s most unexpected cover: a breezy version of bro-country duo Florida Georgia Line’s carefree “Round Here,” which drew a straight line between Dando’s strummy songs and Nashville’s current set of building blocks. After that came Belly, whose low-end-heavy, biting songs split the difference between brooding goth-pop and ebullient surf-tinged rock. Lead vocalist-guitarist Tanya Donelly and bassist-vocalist Gail Greenwood’s harmonies were rich and deliciously off-kilter, powering tracks like the thundering “Feed the Tree” and the manic “Slow Dog”; a new track, “Trainwreck,” wound around a hypnotic groove.
Juliana Hatfield, whose work with the Blake Babies and later on her own established a standard for sweetly sour but forthright pop, performed a muscular set that included a clutch of tracks from her forthcoming album “Pussycat”; Matthew Caws, frontman of headliners Nada Surf, joined her for their collaborative project Minor Alps’s anxious “I Don’t Know What to Do With My Hands” and a loping cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ominous “Bad Moon Rising.” Nada Surf’s set showcased its soaring, openhearted power pop and closed with the rock stalwart “I Fought the Law,” which the band tore through in the style of punk insurgents the Clash. Parish, Donelly, and comedian Eugene Mirman led the crowd in rallying-cry backing vocals, a fitting end to a night that was focused on collaboration and agitation.
Boston Stands With the ACLU
With Nada Surf, Juliana Hatfield, Belly, Evan Dando, the Sheila Divine, the Gravel Pit, and Bill Janovitz
At Paradise Rock Club, March 18
Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.