Review By Tristan Lejeune, Photos By Emily Cohen
It’s a neat story, if you can get over the song everyone got so pukingly sick of.
In 2007, the Plain White T’s were a modest band with a couple of modest hits — songs like “Our Time Now” that accurately sound like they were written by a group that formed in high school. That might have been the end, another middling rock quintet with a mild but passing case of fame. But some producer or other record exec had a stroke of what, financially, can only be considered genius and released a bonus track — from a previous album (!) — as a single.
“Hey There Delilah” climbed to No. 1 on the U.S. charts and stayed there for, wow, felt like forever, didn’t it? In another world, it’s definitely still there — that’s how ubiquitous this song was.
Simple and acoustic with little more than a man playing guitar and singing about how he misses his girl who’s away in New York, “Hey There Delilah” has to be the only deep-track nugget to get polished off, go mufti-platinum and be nominated for the Best Song Grammy two-years after its initial release. The Plain White T’s haven’t touched that kind of success since, and some might say good riddance (did I mention the song overstayed its welcome?), but this group is far more playful than annoying.
All of which is to say when, on Monday night at the 9:30 Club, Plain White frontman Tom Higgenson stood alone on stage at the beginning of a two-song encore playing that Black Pearl of a hit, he could have phoned it in and no one would have really complained. He didn’t though; he belted it out, and good for him.
For the second half of that encore, the rest of the band came back and they did what has to be their best song. It’s loud, it’s angry and most importantly it’s clever with lyrics like “Hate is a strong word, but I really, really, really don’t like you.” That’s downright cheeky, but, sadly, the wit and venom are missing from most of these guys’ other tunes, which play to the underage girls, who were, indeed, in abundance.
9:30 was downright crawling Monday with young women bearing the under-21 hand stamp, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the Plain White T’s might do well to challenge their fans a little more. High school girls can have just as excellent taste as anyone else, but the love songs they’re swooning for here aren’t exactly top-shelf.
“1234” sounds like the kind of thing you think a third-grader would name a song, until you hear the first verse rhyme “had” with “sad” and “bad” with “mad,” and then it gets held back a couple years. The Plain White T’s aren’t devoid of theatricality, and they certainly don’t lack enthusiasm, but they just plain white need better material than this to put together a great set.
Nobody likes the concert critic who poo-poo’s the high schoolers’ music and says it ain’t like it used to be, but some of Plain White’s ditties are a little too close to what used to be. “Our Time Now” sounds like a missing Blink-182 song, and “Take Me Away” is such a Jimmy Eat World rip-off that it must technically be considered an impression.
“I thought she was perfect,” Higgenson sang in this one, no one on stage holding still. “She thought I was perfect too / Perfect until she found someone new.” The song has a rolling-shoulders kind of momentum, but that’s borrowed juice.
Thrashing about like they’re still 18 themselves, the Plain White T’s have fun performing. Ditto that for their opening act.
The Wind and the Wave was an endearing he-she dueling guitar pair (he’s the Wind and she’s the Wave, they say). They gave away their album, confessed it only their 12th show or so and provided a knee-slapping good time with their bluegrass-infused indie rock.
“She’s so awesome,” a young woman in the crowd exclaimed, “I want to be her!” Hey, and after only a dozen shows – not bad.
Less cute was a comment overheard when the headliners came on: “They have a black drummer; they must be cool.” Not so.
Don’t throw out the Plain White T’s just yet – but they could definitely use a little color.