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Loved Ones And Zolof The Rock And Roll Destroyer Jan. 18 At The Black Cat

I went to the Black Cat on Thursday more anxious to hear the Loved Ones but left more pleased with having heard Zolof the Rock and Roll Destroyer. Maybe because Zolof surprised me while the Loved Ones didn't.

Both Philadelphia-based bands reference punk and pop in their music, but during these sets, Zolof leaned more on punk than expected, while the Loved Ones, a band more commonly associated with punk, leaned more on pop. This is not to say that Zolof was more of a punk band on this night -- it wasn't -- but they rocked harder than I assumed they might, and that added something that seems to be missing from their albums.

On their EP and LP, the Loved Ones are more reminiscent of '70s CBGB than most "punk" bands these days, but live they played arena-ready, pop-punk, which could be a boon to their future. They sound like they're one gimmicky single and a clever YouTube video away from headlining at 9:30, D.A.R. or even the Patriot Center. Singer-guitarist Dave Hause started things off saying he was happy to be playing a small venue instead of the larger places he's played while opening for bands like Bad Religion and NOFX, and while backstage at the Black Cat proved to be a perfect room for this show -- crowded (more bodies = better sound) but with enough elbow room to be comfortable -- The Loved Ones sound ready -- with a little luck -- for a larger stage. That's bad and good -- good for the band, but bad for me. Largely, the songs were more same-sounding in person than they are on record, and while the guitars were beefy, the sound was more modern power pop than gutter rock.

One expectation proved to be exactly right. The Loved Ones' choruses scream for punk sing-alongs, and plenty of fans in attendance complied. Frequently, Hause abandoned his singing responsibilities to let the kids do the job for him. It was all very reminiscent to high school. In my day, it was Green Day dressing punk and singing high school love songs. Today, could it be the Loved Ones turn? Well, they don't dress punk, so maybe I should stop referencing it. Hause, wearing a sweater over a collared shirt, looked like your senior class president while his accompanying guitarist, Dave Walsh (on loan from the Explosion), looked like his preppie jock best friend. With his glasses and straight, thin hair crawling down his neck, drummer Mike Sneeringer looks like he should be toting a camera for the AV Club. At least bassist Chris Gonzales (also on loan from the Explosion) looked like a grownup, with a sort of Keith Richards meets Vincent Gallo style.

Despite a lack of grit, the music was captivating for a while, particularly those sing-alongs, but after a few songs, everything started to blend together. Until the last four songs. With time running out in the set, the band finally kick-started the set and played with more edge and abandon, faster and heavier, particularly on "Arsenic." And they did so without sacrificing those pop hooks. "Jane," which is possibly the best song the band has put together so far, still inspired the fans to scream along with Hause.

While the Loved Ones brought some cheese to the Black Cat, despite the sincerity, Zolof wears its cheese on its sleeve. The band members look cuter and nicer than the Loved Ones, and they smile more easily and less cynically. They really look like they're having fun on stage, and that attitude permeated the crowd, which was moving with the music.

In the studio, Zolof's power pop is heavy on '80s candy, particularly singer Rachel Minton's synthesizer, so I was surprised to hear a more aggressive, rockin' set. It was more guitar-driven than expected but still delivered plenty of John Hughes-worthy moments. Zolof was a revelation. While silly, the band's between-song banter was largely forgettable but sweet and friendly just the same. You felt like you could really talk to these guys. "I know it's cheesy to talk about your MySpace page," Minton said at one point, introducing their next song, a recent addition to their MySpace page, and a welcome addition it is. "Can't Stand It" hints at more promising music to come from this band.

Before Zolof's set, two underage fans could be overheard complaining about the smoking band as they headed outside, then whining about their complaints, then resolving their whining and complaining with, "Well, we're at a punk show, right?" Wrong. The punk part of the show was already over. Zolof and the Loved Ones did not deliver a punk rock show, but their opener did. Cloak and Dagger started things off with a competent punk revival set. Of the three bands, they were the most reminiscent of the late '70s, playing loud and gritty. While not pushing the envelope -- without adding anything new to an old formula -- Cloak and Dagger executed that old formula as well as anyone does these days.

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