Thunderbirds Are Fabulous

Thunderbirds Are Now!, Oxford Collapse, Olympia Feb. 12 At The Rock And Roll Hotel

In their first ever trip to D.C., Thunderbirds Are Now! were better than billed on a night that featured three great acts at the Rock And Roll Hotel.

The Thunderbirds have been playing dance punk since the garage mod of bands like the Strokes was still the rock music of the moment, and now that neo-post-punk and nu-wave bands are all the rage, the Thunderbirds are just getting their due. Their synthy punk, though, is much more of a freak out, and it gets freakier on stage. Live, they are heavier than expected. It would be easy to rely on the synthesizer that's so prominent on their records, but while synth was still integral to the songs, spastic drumming and Ryan Allen's jittery, angular guitar took center stage. Well, musically, anyway.

But the set didn't start that way. The band leaned on their best album, 2005's "Justamustache," for this show, kicking things off with fan-favorite "Bodies Adjust," which is all synthesizer and beats and Allen's tongue in cheek sexy posing. On record, "Better Safe Than Safari" and "Eat This City" are reminiscent of the early '80s -- a post-disco dance party -- but it's hard to picture these guys playing to that crowd. They aren't pretty or particularly picky about their clothes, they stumble and jump about the stage wildly, rather than bouncing with beat, and the music is much more restless.

The highlight, though, was "This World Is Made of Paper ... Held Together By a Stapler." It's highly danceable, pleasing to the Franz Ferdinand crowd, but still raucous, for those who prefer Les Savy Fav. And its impassioned plea of a chorus makes for a moving sing along.

The set included a few songs from their latest, poppiest record, last year's "Make History," including that album's most radio-ready song, "Sleeping in the Lion's Mouth." While the record is more straightforward than the band's previous work, in concert, those songs play like quintessential Thunderbirds.

It's apparent that this band and these songs are made for the stage, rather than the studio. As wild as they may sound on record, that sound is highly restrained compared to their concerts. The band bounces and thrashes about, remarkably without sacrificing their music. The fact that the music is heavier live, making it harder to go home and listen to the albums.

It was a fairly sparse crowd at the Rock And Roll Hotel on a cold Monday night, but that suited the band well, as members jumped into the crowd to play and cavort. During one of Allen's strolls into the crowd, keyboardist Scott Allen followed closely behind and tried to throw Oxford Collapse guitarist Michael Pace over his shoulder. The crowd also included former TAN! bass player Howard Chang, who was called up on stage a couple of times to bang around with the old boys.

Oxford Collapse played an admirable set at Black Cat's backstage just a couple of months ago, which made this show all the more compelling, but with the bigger stage and room, the band was able to stretch out. The trio plays heavy, exciting indie rock informed by math rock and post rock and highlighted by the interplay and alternate lead vocals of Pace and bassist Adam Rizer. The extra elbow room allowed them to jump around, fully realizing their stage presence, and the size of the space let sound reach out, too.

They said it was their last night of a two-week stint with TAN!, and their camaraderie with the headliner was evident even before Ryan Allen took the stage to play guitar on a couple of numbers. Never more was it evident than when Rizer butted Allen in the back with his head.

Pulling the most fans to the bar, though, was opener Olympia, a local band via Richmond that played an emo-tinged hardcore that shook the walls without losing the melody. This show came a week before kicking off a tour of the West, and it demonstrated why they've earned the right to tour and why so many people at the Hotel, right down to the bartender, were amped by their set.

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