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Best Music Poll at the Pavilion
Kings and Queens

"Have my babies," the teenaged boy behind me kept yelling as the all-male Killers romped through their Best Music Poll celebration concert set of ’80s synth pop and power-chord guitar rock on Tuesday night.

But even if some WFNX 101.7 FM listeners and Phoenix readers appear confused about biology, the fact that the show at the Bank of America Pavilion was sold out well in advance is proof they have good musical taste.

Each year readers and listeners exercise that taste by checking off their national and local favorites on a ballot set by the radio station’s and newspaper’s music experts. And then a few thousand of them band together to party up with a night of music after the tallying’s done. This year the major Best Music Poll concert at the Pavilion on Boston Harbor included the Killers, Interpol, Louis XIV, and Robbers on High Street. Across town on the Lansdowne Street club strip, Avalon, Axis, and Bill’s Bar hosted 10 more bands at the same time. Bill’s flew Boston’s beloved punk rock flag, with Sage Francis, Lost City Angels, and the Unseen. At Axis, Autolux, the Raveonettes, and Futureheads composed an eclectic line-up of out-of-towners. And at Avalon, pop-inclined locals Averi and Dear Leader opened up for nationals Kaiser Chiefs and the poll’s big hometown winners the Dresden Dolls.

At the Pavilion, the Killers proved they deserved the headlining slot, counteracting Interpol’s sleek chill with a cheery, cheeky, high-energy performance. Fontman Brandon Flowers looked like a hip junior accountant in his jacket, tie, and white shirt, singing — without any trace of irony — "it’s indie rock for me" from his major label perch. Since their debut Hot Fuss (Island) came out a little less than a year ago, their songs "Somebody Told Me," "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine," and "Mr. Brightside" have been all over the radio, and they’ve made serious hay with their blend of new wave and old sentiments. Putting songs of love, lust, and loss to a beat has worked since rock began, and the Killers may be the best of the recent pop crop to realize that. This night they rewarded the crowd by playing nearly all of Hot Fuss and a new tune, "All the Pretty Faces," that showed they’re not straying much from their winning formula.

Interpol could stand to open up a bit live, but sleek, textured, and stony is their thing, and when they’re spot-on, as they often were Tuesday night, the results are transfixing. Singer Paul Banks spoke more than he did during the band’s winter Orpheum Theatre performance, thanking the audience several times for coming and for loudly showing their enthusiasm. Banks and lead guitarist Daniel Kessler had some beautiful musical moments, generating slabs of hyper-amplified sound that were a perfect gray canvass for their often brooding, introspective lyrics, barked à la Ian Curtis. Their fast, harmonized strumming and interlocking, angular riffs felt a bit looser and more experimental this time — as if they were edging their live performances further from under the shadow of Joy Division’s influence.

The outdoor concert’s big surprise was Louis XIV. They’re from San Diego, but in bell-bottoms and Beatles cuts, they looked like the Yardbirds and sounded like the entire catalog of classic British rock. The associations with the past were much stronger live than on their three-month-old debut, The Best Secrets are Kept (Atlantic). On disc they come off like the Kinks with a T. Rex fetish. But at the Pavilion there was room in their repertoire for big Who-like build-ups, including windmilling power chords from frontman Jason Hill, Led Zeppelin acoustic slide guitar instrumental forays, and a surprising guitar-and-organ led trip into the sonic turf of Deep Purple. Given that many of the youngest members of the crowd were wearing Louis XIV T-shirts, they may be on the cusp of a mainstream rebirth of ’60s/’70s style meat-and-potatoes rock.

During the Best Music Poll celebration’s early years, the shows were restricted to Lansdowne Street. But big outdoor concerts like the Pavilion gig make the event accessible to all ages — especially pertinent given the Killers’ and Interpol’s mainstream successes. That also contributed to the exodus toward Lansdowne after the Killers’ set. Pavilion ticket stubs were also good for admission to Axis, Bill’s, and Avalon, although only Avalon was offering live music by the time most Pavilion ticket holders arrived.

For many 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds, that afforded an introduction to the charismatic duo Dresden Dolls. Singer-pianist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione played a hard set of their cabaret rock, delivering stories of broken hearts, crushed psyches, badly wired brains, and busted ideals. Nonetheless, their piano-and-drums sound can be an acquired taste. "Is this the best thing they could find to end the night?" a young man in a baseball cap snorted before slam-dunking his Coke in a trashcan and leaving the room. I couldn’t help but wonder what his reaction might have been if they’d appeared in their signature whiteface make-up. "At least they could have a bass played," another young skeptic intoned.

But Palmer and Viglione have what they need, as their Best Music Poll wins for best live act, female vocalist, and album attest. And they made the most of it, putting emotional heat, as usual, over melody to a way that connected with most of the crowd. The highlights came when they broke musical character. Viglione, playing acoustic guitar, and Palmer, sans piano, strode to the front of the stage to belt lines about the "whore of Amsterdam" with Brechtian gusto. They also delivered a grand finale. As they vamped on "Half Jack," a wraith-like female dancer covered in what looked like talcum powder took the stage behind them, shivering and convulsing in apparent claustrophobic knots of inner turmoil. It was as if she was the troubled soul of the song. The powder created visually striking clouds around her, and then she was gone, leaving the Dresden Dolls to conclude with a pounding "Girl Anonymous" — although anonymity is obviously no longer a part of their repertoire.

– Ted Drozdowski

AND MORE FROM LANSDOWNE STREET . . .

After 15 years of Best Music Poll concerts it would be easy for me to be blasé, and that’s sort of how I felt standing in the back of Axis watching the highly-regarded Raveonettes. There was nothing wrong with what the Danish quintet did — the cool beauty of singer Sharin Foo, the three-guitar attack, the tight rhythm section. The static harmonies stacked high with overtones and feedback made for dandy orchestration. It was enough to validate all those Jesus and Mary Chain comparisons. The band also announced their affection for ’60s pop and girl groups, played one song that they’d recorded with Ronnie Spector, and then actually did the Ronettes’ "Be My Baby." But the ecstatic churchification of that song got a bit flattened — call but no response. The Raveonettes did what they did very well, but it was finally a bit narrow.

Over in Avalon, Britain’s Kaiser Chiefs went right to my vulgar show-biz-loving heart. Lead singer Ricky Wilson jumped and scissor-kicked off the mike stand. His vocals came through stronger than anything Foo and her partner Sune Rose Wagner did in the Raveonettes, and guitarist Andrew White and drummer Nick Hodgson offered good back-up vocals. Kaiser Chiefs might not have played any more chords per song that the Raveonettes did, but they changed a heck of a lot faster — the songs had more parts: verse-chorus-bridge. That one little extra part made all the difference, especially with Wilson jumping up and down, and the back-up oh’s and ow’s filling out the choruses. There were clap-alongs, sarcastic Brit-clever lyrics, and at one point a nude woman — who it turned out was Amanda Palmer of headliners the Dresden Dolls) streaked onstage, threw her arms around Wilson, and planted a big kiss.

At Bill's Bar, the Unseen were finishing up in front of a small crowd — about as many as would come see my favorite local jazz band, but hey, this wasn’t Saturday afternoon all-ages. Maybe the BMP wasn’t the right scene for the Unseen. They didn’t play that way, though — with Mark Unseen in a dyed mohawk and ripped-sleeve Misfits t-shirt, it was 1987 all over again. He dedicated the last song to FNX’s Chris Rucker, claiming him an antidote to "all the bad music that gets shoved down our throats," and their furious, air-tight attack recalled another lyric — from the Dogmatics, another Boston band from back in those days before the Best Music Poll started 17 years ago: "Hardcore rules/don’t be stupid! Hardcore rules/don’t be an asshole!"

— Jon Garelick


Issue Date: June 8, 2005
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