Released earlier this fall, Ex Hex’s debut album, “Rips,” is a classic rock album that improves on the idea of “classic rock” — the power trio of Mary Timony (guitar), Betsy Wright (bass), and Laura Harris (drums) whips through catchy, urgent tracks like the charging “Waterfall” and the muscular “Beast.” Their rock instincts are precisely honed — a guitar solo here, a “whoa-oh-oh” there, a feedback freakout at the climactic moment — and on Thursday night they showed them off, performing most of “Rips” for a sold-out Great Scott crowd.
Timony is a formidable frontwoman who’s also one of rock’s better guitar players, and Ex Hex’s leaner take on power pop only calls on her to show off when absolutely necessary; “How You Got That Girl,” on which bassist Betsy Wright handles vocals, calls to mind the slinkier moments of the Cars, but with Timony’s fluid guitar heroism covering for both guitarist Elliot Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes.
Timony, who lived in Boston during the ’90s and ’00s, paid homage to her former hometown with a rousing cover of “All Kindsa Girls,” the 1977 single by proto-punkers the Real Kids. She and Wright handled the song’s vocals in unison, providing a nice counterpoint to the song’s sometimes-lecherous lyrics and setting up the show’s triumphant finish, Timony waving to the raucous crowd with both hands as Wright and Harris exited the stage.
Speedy Ortiz, which closed out the night, has been honing its live show with relentless touring during 2014, releasing an EP and one-off tracks along the way. During a brief return home (Speedy Ortiz will set up shop at Great Scott next month for a three-night “holiday residency”) the mood was loose. Guitarist-vocalist Sadie Dupuis showed off her knowledge of Nicki Minaj verses during breaks and wore a “Pink Friday”-evoking wig that came off during a particularly intense section of the new track “Graduates.”
The band’s musicianship was road-tested and tight, with Dupius leading guitarist Devin McKnight, bassist Darl Ferm, and drummer Mike Falcone in crunching, twisty songs that evoked glimpses of indie eras past: hyperliterate grad-student pop, heavily jerking post-rock, even a bit of a twang on “Doomsday,” from a recent split single. The night ended with “Everything’s Bigger,” a newer track that shows off Dupuis and her bandmates’ ability to navigate multiple hairpin curves in a brief pop song.