Sounds for older kids

Cambridge driven by Unrest
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  July 20, 2010

CONNECTION The voices of Cross and Robinson seemed as new as virgin vinyl as they danced together in the close harmonies that so many knew note-for-note from records.

PHOTOS: Unrest live at T. T. the Bear's Place. By Derek Kouyoumjian.
If there were a missing chapter in Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, it would be about Unrest, the DC-based experimental-pop trio whose leader, Mark Robinson, has called Cambridge home for the past 10 years.

The chapter would have to include the classic and final Unrest line-up: Robinson on guitar and vocals, Bridget Cross of Velocity Girl on bass and vocals, and Phil Krauth on drums. And it would explain how they developed their stylized and refined sound — as well as their visual-design approach — based on records sprawling from post-punk to '60s pop and soul to minimal funk and even Sammy Davis Jr.

Unrest's legacy was awakened at a sold-out T.T. the Bear's Place on July 8, when the flagship band of Robinson's TeenBeat label hit Cambridge as part of a 2010 reunion tour. It was their first string of live shows since breaking up in 1994.

Taking the stage without swagger or fanfare, the band stood in silence for a few moments, eyes downcast, as if in prayer, before opening with the hymn-like "Angel I Will Walk You Home." Although they were no doubt dusty, Unrest having played only one show in the past 16 years (the TeenBeat 20th anniversary in 2005), the voices of Cross and Robinson seemed as new as virgin vinyl as they danced together in the close harmonies that so many knew note-for-note from records.

But even casual fans knew this was not going to be a night of ballads. The soft dreaminess of "Angel" slammed into the snide, overdriven intro of "Cath Carroll," Unrest's ode to the former Miaow frontwoman. Played about as fast as Krauth could motor his drumsticks, "Cath Carroll" still stands as the quintessential Unrest song: jangly and bright as all-get-out, no guitar solo, and oblique lyrics that might include counting or spelling — or both. Throughout the set, which focused on 1992's Imperial f.f.r.r. and 1993's Perfect Teeth, the band played close to their strength by juxtaposing their bouncy rave-ups ("Suki," with its 16-beat rhythms; the fun and soulful "Cherry Cream On") with definitive ballads.

Robinson's ability to reach listeners with those romantic, imagery-laden ballads was obvious, from the pitter-patter rhythms of "I Do Believe That You Are Blushing" to the willfully innocent "Isabel," a gentle rumination on 20th-century American realist painter Isabel Bishop as a "lovely child." Some songs even combined both sides: the Cross-penned "June" and "Soon It's Going To Rain," where alternating intense and mellow sections create a sense of epic scale.

Sonic experiments included the hypnotic "Firecracker" (with Robinson and Krauth alternating on guitar up/down strokes) and a workout of E.S.G's "U.F.O." Aside from the hyper-faithful representations of the band's favorite recordings, you couldn't help noticing the potency of Robinson's boyish voice. With his crew cut, his "I 3 Cambridge" T-shirt (his current band, Cotton Candy, are based there), and his crazed stare, Robinson was at once the perennial cool older brother out in the garage, the trail-blazing voyager, and the wide-eyed explorer. Whatever was in that silent moment of intention before Unrest played, it worked. Maybe there's still time to finish that unwritten chapter.

Related: 5 for '10, Photos: Organ Beats at T.T. the Bear's, Tight but loose, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment, Music, Mark Robinson,  More more >
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