By Ziggy Merritt
Friday night was a welcome return for the Van Pelt, a band that 20 years ago was just as hard to define as they are today. Their two original albums, Stealing from Our Favorite Thieves and Sultans of Sentiments were veritable preambles to the progression of anything from emo to post-rock through the late 90s and early 00s. Two decades and a third album of previously unreleased music later (2014’s Imaginary Third) the band is no less vital. With the conversational vocals of Chris Leo guiding the way through a blur of downtempo distortion, their set capped off a humid evening with stimulating excitement.
Opening up, Magic Deal began the evening with a barrage of bass licks and winding solos that surprised many who were immediately drawn toward the front of the stage barely 30 seconds into their set. A blend of blues, hard rock, and punk defined their presence onstage, but the formation of an identity is still in the works. Barely a year old, the seasoned and gifted three-piece shared a few moments of technical awkwardness, but otherwise managed to stir and excite a crowd that didn’t know what to expect.
As the second three-piece of the night, the members of Amanda X have always maintained a consistent level of distorted punk glee since their debut in 2012 with the excellent Ruin the Moment EP. With a DIY spirit at heart, their music can be at one moment uplifting and the next introspective and aggressive. Their set captured those same moments of giddiness and frustration, the latter perhaps sharpened in the current political heat. Responding to that heat, their vocal commitment toward donating the proceeds of the forthcoming Giant LP to Women Against Abuse only emboldens their genuine selflessness.
Starting with perhaps their most well-known track “Nanzen Kills A Cat,” Van Pelt opened up strong and rarely let the momentum fall off throughout the length of their set. A healthy mix of their robust work proceeded with a personal favorite in the more minimal yet wonderfully emotive “Do the Lovers Still Meet at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial?” Whether they’re post- this or that, the current lineup of the Van Pelt are humble at heart, outwardly sharing genuine excitement at being able to express their brief yet impactful catalog of tunes once again.