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For Ceremony, alienation as communal experience

Ceremony mixed fierce material with expansive songs on Sunday.Shawn Brackbill

SOMERVILLE — The California quintet Ceremony formed in 2005, and its early records were marked by bracing rage — brief, potent onslaughts of brute-force guitars and vocalist Ross Farrar's scraped-paint vocals yelling about various forms of alienation, all designed to ignite and direct explosive reactions from anyone who might be nearby. But on its most recent album, "The L-Shaped Man," Ceremony expressed its dissatisfactions differently.

A meditation on the aftermath of heartbreak, "L-Shaped," which came out in May, certainly possesses the bleakness that characterizes the band's earlier work. Musically, however, it brings to mind the earliest days of post-punk melding into New Wave — brooding basslines, spindly solos, lyrics that probe the way heartbreak can feel deepest at the most mundane moments. Guitars are given just enough reverb to sound like they're emanating from the bottom of caverns; the record frequently incorporates elements of faster, happier brands of rock, twisting them just enough to make them sound like they represent embittered memories of better times.


On Sunday, the band split the difference between its earlier, fiercer material and the more expansive songs from "The L-Shaped Man." Farrar's performance stance was similar to that of a street fighter, poised and ready for all comers; it fit his lyrical subject matter regardless of whether he was singing about lost love (the dominant topic of "The L-Shaped Man") or the police. It was also appropriate given the nature of the crowd, which swelled toward the front or made space for a mosh pit, depending on each song's opening chords; on the harder offerings, people leapt from the stage in hopes of securing a spot to surf above the pulsing crowd, and Farrar and lead guitarist Anthony Anzaldo got in on the high-wire action as well.

Ceremony's taut, well-paced set ended with "Sick," a blistering 2010 track that very bluntly sums up being "sick of" the world; among the recorded version's targets are "television," "yuppies," and (perhaps inevitably) "me." The final pit of the night was marked by Farrar passing the mike around to audience members so they could also yell "SICK!!" into it; as a gesture, it not only got the braver audience members to push toward the front even harder, it summed up the appeal of Ceremony's ability to channel and reflect alienation.


Music review


With Pity Sex, Tony Molina

At: Cuisine en Locale, Sunday

Maura Johnston can be reached at maura@maura.com.