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Fleeting rock: thedamnwells at Valentine’s. Photo by Mandy Crabtree

Forget-Me Pop
By Kirsten Ferguson

Thedamnwells, the Sixfifteens, Boss Gremlin, Five Alpha Beatdown
Valentine’s, May 24

Dubbed “New Rock City” in a recent New York Times article, New York’s underground rock music scene is the latest media-designated “scene” du jour. The Times article paralleled the early 1970s rise of CBGB-backed punk bands, such as the Ramones, Television and Talking Heads, to a current resurgence of stripped-down, garage-punk, New York primitivism. The article suggested that more New York City residents might be seeking the visceral thrills of live music post-Sept. 11. Of course, the success of the Strokes—who became international sensations virtually overnight—has helped draw buttloads of media attention to New York’s nascent garage-rock scene.

New York City band thedamnwells, who played downstairs at Valentine’s on Friday night, are rarely mentioned in the same breath as the white-hot city bands (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Walkmen) singled out by the article. Still, they could stand to gain, no doubt, from the overall trendiness of their scene. The buzz about thedamnwells, reportedly, is growing. “We’re from Brooklyn,” singer-guitarist Alex Dezen announced, repeatedly, during the Valentine’s show. Musically, however, thedamnwells played intensely earnest, melodic power-pop, a sharp departure from the sort of fast, loose and primitive New York City rock currently in favor. It also represented a complete divorce from the band’s alt- country connections (thedamnwells drummer Steven Terry played in Whiskeytown on and off for a couple of years).

The Bard College-educated Denzen has tagged his band’s sound as “rock with a lot of problems.” By saying that in an interview, he seemed to mean that thedamnwells’ crunchy power-pop is shaped by an experimental flair. More accurately, that description suited the songwriter’s seeming bevy of personal problems—the music was rife with emotions akin to psychological angst. Overall, thedamnwells were tight, but not immensely memorable—my impression of them was gone as soon as they left the stage. Quite possibly, though, they are an acquired taste.

The show marked the first official performance by the Sixfifteens, the latest musical project of former Dryer guitarist Bob Carlton. The Saratoga Springs-based Dryer, who broke up recently, managed to reconcile two very different songwriters in the same band, merging the indie-rock melodicism of bassist-singer Rachael Sunday with Carlton’s three-chord pop-punk instincts. With the Sixfifteens, Carlton has extra room to explore the punk side of the equation—evidenced, perhaps, by the band’s choice cover of the Ramone’s “I Wanna Be Sedated” early on in the set. Although they claimed to have had only three practices under their belts before the show, the Sixfifteens sounded surprisingly together: their tempo overall a bit faster than Dryer, and more consistently upbeat. The first song, “All My Friends,” stood out as a highlight, and the Sixfifteens enjoyed the largest, most attentive crowd of the night.

Boss Gremlin, a four-piece power-pop band with roots in the Capital Region, helped open the show. Now residing in New Jersey, the band played featherweight radio-friendly fare that did sound surprisingly catchy on songs like “Down in It.” Five Alpha Beatdown—a garage-rock splinter of Albany’s John Brodeur and his Suggestions—kicked off the show with a set of guitar-and-drum cacophony. Dressed in oversized sunglasses and red polyester pants, Brodeur—or actually, his alter ego “from Iceland”—concluded Five Alpha Beatdown’s opening set with a fittingly out-of-tune crooning of Genesis’ “That’s All.”

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