Like Wilco in many ways, My Morning Jacket (Aug. 4, Hard Rock Live) has more or less transcended genre. That freedom to indulge your whims unchecked, however, can make your constitution lose its shape, rigor and vigor – just look at the America around you. And MMJ's career has had its spells of nebulousness where their dewy haze has become more emblematic of their vision than just their sonics.
There are plenty of genuinely good songs in their quiver, but they're sometimes buried in a lot of half-stepped wank-outs. Without those songs, the grand cloud of their expansive tendencies would deflate pretty quickly. Live, their sound was unsurprisingly big, plush and well-appointed. Even if it blunted some of their songwriting teeth, it was an exercise in lavish sonic craft. Still, a little more salience never hurt anyone.
Meanwhile, L.A. opener Mini Mansions featured oblique pop cut from tight, svelte lines. Though notable, it's almost not worth mentioning that the band includes Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman because of the red herring it throws out there. With perhaps the sole exception of their song "Mirror Mountain" – which sounds very much like a synth reworking of QOTSA and is way more dope than it sounds – Mini Mansions bears little resemblance to that heavy guitar riffage. Instead, they're a wiry trio that leads more with keyboards, stand-up drums and some left-field cool. An actual cover that defines them a little more is their slow-mo undressing of Blondie's "Heart of Glass," which was a nice, slinky cherry atop an already solid performance.
Melody punk is often a too-tame deal, but a recent homegrown slice (Aug. 2, Will's Pub) showed that it need not always be. Jacksonville's R-Dent goes at it full-tilt with an N-Thusiastic (nailed it) stage show that knows what it means to lay it on the line live with a physicality more evocative of extreme genres.
With a bad name that's mostly earned, emo is a genre that's been self-castrated by milquetoasts like few others. Tampa's Pinehurst, however, does the honorable roots justice with some decent heart rage and hardcore heritage.
After the way they owned this show, the Areolas proved again why they're one of the area's best pop-punk bands. What this Orlando group further reaffirmed was that – with that tall two-guitar attack – they're also one of the most sonically fierce ones around with a perfect combination that delivers melodic immediacy with zero compromise on mass or velocity.
Speaking of melody punk, few have the well-earned prestige of Southern California's Face to Face. By now, they're a legacy band, and what people want to hear from legacy bands at shows are the hits. Face to Face, however, has been finding nice ways to thread the needle of delivering the classic stuff in fresh ways.
In 2012, their tour focusing on 1999's Ignorance Is Bliss was interesting because it was not only a revisit of an album that was a stylistic departure for them (and therefore overlooked) but a surprisingly effective acoustic rendering of it.
Now, they return with a prime-era blowout with their limited "Triple Crown" engagements covering their defining first three albums across three evenings. We don't always discern the good from the bad, but Orlando loves the shit out of pop punk. And as one of the few select cities to land the royal treatment (Aug. 6-8, the Social), Face to Face can only class up our frequent but not frequently good pop-punk diet.
Closing night (Aug. 8), which focused on their 1996 self-titled LP, was fever pitch. As you'd hope for an extended residency, Trever Keith and company exuded a little more heart and intimacy on stage than in past shows. In performance, Face to Face came to play, bashing it out harder and faster live. What maxed the experience, however, was that the fans matched the intensity. As deafening as the music was, the crowd sing-alongs often managed to drown it out. And it made for one of the most enthusiastic (which I expected) and stentorian (which I did not) concerts in a long while.