All words: Philip Runco
all photos: Shauna Alexander
Free Energy is eager to please. The band cycles through the catalog of Rock Star tropes more thoroughly than a “Risky Business” Guitar Hero ad. They fist pump. They hoist their guitars. They shimmy around stage. Their heads rarely break from nodding or shaking, shag in perpetual motion.
Their music is similarly wired and studied, a fortified blend of riff-heavy power pop that unashamedly looks back towards Cheap Trick and Thin Lizzy. Of course, Free Energy is not the only band currently mining these influences; notably, Glasgow’s 1990s did so on 2006′s Cookies, and with diminishing returns on this year’s Kicks. But while 1990s delivers its power pop with a wink and more than a little self-deprecating wit, Free Energy is all starry-eyed sincerity. “We are young and still alive,” lanky front man Paul Sprangers reminded the audience on Wednesday. The band rarely aimed for anything less than anthemic: “We’re riding through the night, trying to get around, in love with electric sound” was the scene set for “Dream City”. (True to its name, they made liberal use of power and energy metaphors). It’s cheesy stuff, to be sure, but to the Free Energy’s credit, they sell it.
The band performed as if DC9′s half full audience was the screaming masses of Budokan. The set was brief, a mere seven or eight songs, but much like their recently released Free Energy EP, it burst at the seams with such hooks, bridges, and acrobatics, that much more would have felt indulgent, or at worst, redundant.
A fair amount of the attention drawn by Free Energy has focused on its oddly finding a home on DFA Records’ roster. At first blush the band shares little stylistically with its new labelmates, but watching them perform, a realization occurs that perhaps they instead share a common approach: lack or originality is compensated for with execution. Free Energy just chose to draw on less fashionable influences.
Local opener Radio Fatale provided a jolting start to the evening. At its best, the drums and guitar duo recalled the spiky post-rock of Prinzhorn Dance School. (Or perhaps I just had DFA on the mind). At its more spastic, the band seemed seemed content to thrash – albeit short a severed guitar string – and settle for occasional shock value.