Thurs Aug 2, Sunset Tavern
"Hello, Sunset!" shouts Tim Thomas, singer/guitarist for Popstar Assassins, as the band stands poised to perform. His countenance vacillates between cocky and insecure, and there's a definite charm to it.
The band's opening song is bright power pop, and it's all radio. The lead guitar (played by Cale Hoopes) is high, and pulses with harmonics--a single note repeated to propel the song gently, and though I just called it "power pop," the song is without bombast. I will discover that there is little bombast anywhere in this band's set.
"My band's on the radio," Thomas sings, and I'm certain it could be (well it is--on KEXP--but I'm thinking even bigger and less community-friendly radio as the song continues). Sweet, clean harmonies imbue the song with light and buoyancy. Hoopes, who sings the supplementary vocal parts, is restrained and solid in his delivery. Nothing is overwhelming or new, but it's all on the mark.
"Transcontinental" is the name of the second song, and it's more jangle-pop than the first: Vocals are lazier this time. Even when Thomas shouts, he is gentle, though the song itself is driving, with a solid descending guitar riff that I'm certain will stick in my head later on.
Then, as if to please the band's already large and adoring fan base, the guys go into "Still I Can't Let Go," which is the single that KEXP is currently rotating. The vocals aren't high enough in the mix, and, unfortunately, the song doesn't really carry, but the guitars are great and the song trots by, regardless.
The band covers the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait," but it doesn't feel ragged enough. In fact, I don't recognize it. It's an interesting performance (and a beautiful song), but I wonder why I'm not blown away by it. I'm not a huge Replacements fan, but I know why that band is beautiful--there's a dirty, Midwestern glory to Westerberg and Co. that I'm not finding here. And while Popstar Assassins are from the Northwest, and I realize I can't expect my local icons to be dirty at my behest, it still feels lackluster.
Overall, the Popstar Assassins' show is strong, simple, and full of college-rock goodness laced with Brit- and jangle-pop. The sound is clean and accessible, and my only complaint would be that the show needed an edge to capitalize on the Assassins' excellent potential.
Which brings me back to my initial assessment of Thomas. This band is confident, and its audience is accordingly reverent. Of all the performances I've attended so far for this column, Popstar Assassins has the biggest following. They're accomplished musicians and the set goes down smoothly. But when the sound is jangly and American, it is without the scrappy discontentedness that makes American bands like Scrawl or the Plimsouls singular. At other times, when Popstar Assassins sound more Brit-pop, they fail to display the arch intelligence and charismatic arrogance of bands like the Charlatans or Blur.
As I listen appreciatively to these fine musicians, I decide they occupy a no man's land, with neither the grit of their countrymen or the charming pomposity of their overseas counterparts.
But then they win me over. The set closes with a song called "Goodbye." It is moody and insular. Guitars are dreamily effected. Drums stutter, and the show moves into a late but exciting climax.
It's a really great song.