Thursday of last week was one of those ideal nights for local music, where two shows were going on simultaneously at the neighboring Middle East and T.T. the Bear’s in Central Square, enabling a fan to bounce back and forth between the venues like flipping channels on the radio.
While the Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble lineup at the latter was carrying out its weeks-long pursuit of crowning this year’s best local band, at the sold-out Middle East Upstairs, two young bands were making a convincing grab for the unofficial title. Worcester’s the Hotelier, whose “Home, Like Noplace Is There” has garnered raves from around the country (including recently in this space), were the big draw, with the crowd singing along to every word of their raw, tuneful punk. But headliners (and Tiny Engines labelmates) Somos, which was celebrating the release of its “Temple of Plenty,” were making a convincing case for themselves as this year’s most likely to succeed.
Songs like “Familiar Thing” and “Domestic,” with their noodly guitar lines, brightly strummed chords, call and response vocals, halftime breakdowns, and strident pop-punk choruses were precisely crafted and viscerally delivered.
Sitting in the band van outside on Brookline Avenue after the show, vocalist and bass player Michael Fiorentino was enthusiastic. “We’re used to playing to like 15 people,” he said. “This is the biggest show we’ve played where people knew the songs.” For the band, who were in the middle of a 30-day tour, that’s going to become an increasingly frequent reaction.
A few days later, guitarist Phil Haggerty, calling from the road on the way to Cleveland, was still excited about the response the band has been getting. “One thing we weren’t prepared for was kids knowing the lyrics and singing along in random towns like Orlando,” he said. “It’s still really small, but being our first lengthy tour, we were prepared for the worst.” The group’s record came out while they were on the road, he said. “We didn’t know it had got out there at all.”
The band, whose members range in age from 22 to 24, met at the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts in South Hadley, and solidified as a band about a year and a half ago after bonding over music.
Fiorentino cites a common history among his bandmates in hard-core, but also includes more recent bands like Modern Life Is War and classics like the Clash as inspriations. “I love all the cliche songwriters,” he went on. “Bob Dylan . . . I always try to strive for storytelling lyrics.”
This attention to lyrical specificity is just part of what’s made the band, like the Hotelier, stand out from a glut of so-called emo-revival acts that have sprouted up in the last couple of years. While Somos’s sound fits broadly into that mold — with echoes of influential acts such as American Football, the Promise Ring, and Boston’s own Piebald and Transit — there’s little of the genre’s woebegone romanticism on “Temple of Plenty.” “I don’t really write — but not like it’s a principle — breakup or love songs. There are none on this album,” Fiorentino said. “I just don’t think I can do that well. I’m interested in political issues, the inequality of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent, issues of oppression. When I try to write lyrics, maybe those themes come out? But less in a didactic, sloganeering way, and more through storytelling.”
“I think we were just lucky with the timing,” Haggerty explained of their being lumped into the emo resurgence. “Right around the time we started the band that all happened. We’re not haters of the emo revival, it means there are a lot more kids coming to shows. But I think we’re more of a crossover band, I don’t think we’re a typical emo band. We take pride in having a pop punk-emo-indie crossover. I like the idea of moving forward and creating something new. I like to think that’s where we’re at.”
That’s what their first single, “Dead Wrong,” is about, Fiorentino said. “How do you navigate being in a genre of music where people say it’s a ’90s thing? We wanted to move away from that nostalgia in our sound and lyrics. How do you move forward but also recognize you’re broadly involved in something being termed a revival?”
Somos’s “Temple of Plenty” is available now at www.tinyengines.bandcamp.com.
The 35th annual Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble began last week, and the field for the battle-of-the-bands-style competition at T.T. the Bear’s in Central Square has been narrowed down from 24 to eight contenders. On Thursday (after this section’s press time), modern rockers Await Rescue, synth-punks Petty Morals, neo-disco partiers Western Education, and expansive, theatrical-rockers When Particles Collide competed for one of three spots in the finals, which will be held on April 25. On Friday, four more bands jump back into the ring for the second night of the semifinals, including pop rock act Barricades, which impressed with a hook-filled set, as did the raucous Goddamn Draculas. Joining them are the soul rock band Feints, and the Northern woods acoustic hoedown stomp standouts Tigerman WOAH! (which has seemed poised to win outright since the competitors were announced). As always, the best part of the Rumble is seeing bands from around New England that you wouldn’t normally see thrown together, and discovering new local favorites. Others who impressed so far were the twee, dream-pop band Slowdim, and the psych-rock of Guillermo Sexo.Luke O’Neil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.