Show Review: Free Energy at the Middle East Downstairs | May 26, 2010

It takes balls to open a debut album with the words "we're breaking out," but that's what the band Free Energy recently did on their homonymous debut from DFA Records. It's also how the Philadelphia quintet began last night's show at the Middle East downstairs, plowing through the fuzz-rock song in question ("Free Energy," of course) with abandon and sending the crowd into a minor frenzy. "Dance, balcony, dance! Do the side-to-side!" yelled singer Paul Sprangers, before launching into "Something in Common," a mid-tempo rocker with syncopated guitars and a "Train in Vain" bassline. The audience members on the "balcony" (actually, the raised section near the bar at stage right) eagerly obliged.

Free Energy play a glorious mixture of Thin Lizzy, Boston, and Pavement - a shiny, fat mess of distortion under sweet melodies. Their record, produced by LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy, is an exercise in precision. The band's performance last night wasn't - the rhythm section dragged periodically, and Sprangers' voice wavered more often than not. But the show was perfect for the place and time. The Middle East is both grungy and neon-bright, just like the band's pop grime, and Free Energy's songs are tailor-made for sticky summer nights. More than anything, the vibe was what worked, as the 18+ crowd downed PBRs, and Sprangers and Co. bounced around the stage like toddlers at a birthday party.

Free Energy first played Boston last August, opening for Hanson-Cheap Trick-Fountains of Wayne supergroup Tinted Windows at the Paradise. The audience at that show listened politely - the band had yet even to release their debut single. Last night was a different story. The crowd yelled "Bang pop!" along with Sprangers and sang every "oh-ohhh" back-up vocal. Free Energy songs, with their epic choruses and lyrics about relishing youth, are built for sing-alongs. They were selling joy, and everyone was buying.

Openers Miniature Tigers canceled due to a van breakdown and will rejoin the tour at tonight's show in Connecticut.

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