Saturday’s show at the Midland was an ersatz adult prom sponsored by a local radio station (96.5 FM, The Buzz) that convened four disparate bands to provide the evening’s soundtrack.
Admission was free. Patrons were encouraged to dress in formal attire, and more than half of the crowd of more than 800 or so did just that. So did many of the people tending the bars. It made for a festive evening, despite the colliding styles of music.
Now Now Sleepyhead, a local trio, opened the evening. The band plays an intriguing blend of rock. It’s melodic and groovy, but progressive. Its sound was even more captivating when trumpeter Hermon Mehari stepped in and laid down some jazzy filigrees and embellishments. The crowd was still shuffling in when Sleepyhead started, but the several hundred who watched gave the band a heavy and warm response.
A Silent Film, a Brit-rock quartet from Oxford, England, was next. It bared a host of influences: U2, the Verve, Coldplay, Travis; a few times it insinuated Spandau Ballet. Its sound is typified by the single “You Will Leave a Mark,” a percussive keyboard/guitar anthem with confessional lyrics: “I’m so ashamed at what I’ve become.” It was all accessible and easy to digest, though the pleasant aftertaste was fleeting.
Next up: Dead Sara, a band that would fit in at Rockfest, another radio station’s annual rite of spring. Dead Sara is led by the very abandoned Emily Armstrong, a yowler, howler and screamer of a lead singer. Her voice bears a few resemblances to Courtney Love, Melissa Etheridge and Grace Slick. She is also prone to some impressive histrionics, like climbing high atop stacks of amps and other equipment.
The band features a guitarist named Siouxsie Medley, but its fashion and music are a heavy mix of punk and grunge, right down to the flannel shirt Armstrong tied around her waist.
Its set included “Dear Love,” a chiming, thundering rock anthem, and “Weatherman,” an infernal mix of punk, blues and grunge.
The Smithereens closed out the night, which made them the de facto headliners, I suppose. But Dead Sara had already detonated the mood into scraps and shards of shrapnel. So by the time Pat DiNizio and his mates (including fellow founding members Jim Babjak and Dennis Diken) took the stage, a slow exodus out of the theater was already under way.
They can still throw down the bright pop harmonies, but live they sound heavier and harder than they do on their recordings. The setlist included “Only a Memory,” “Miles From Nowhere,” “Sorry,” “Keep on Running” and “Girl Like You.”
The 200 or so fans who stuck around till the end got to hear a raw and spirited rendition of the band’s biggest hit, “Blood and Roses” from the timeless 1986 album “Especially for You.” A few of those well-dressed couples even slow-danced to that one, as if they’d been taken back in time — back to high school, even.