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Keep it close to me: John Davis and Brandon Fisher of Superdrag. Photo by Joe Putrock

Valley of Dying Stars
By Kirsten Ferguson

Superdrag, Hellmagnet, the Sixfifteens
Valentine’s, Sept. 13

‘I’d like to dedicate this song to the dude from Phantom Planet who had to go to the hospital yesterday,” Superdrag singer John Davis said, sympathetically, about midway through his band’s set at Valentine’s on Friday night. Davis’ dedication was intended for Phantom Planet’s ailing singer Alex Greenwald, who—it turns out—was suffering from a less-than-fatal case of laryngitis. Still, the singer’s throat trouble was serious enough to warrant, earlier in the day, the cancellation of the band’s headlining appearance at Valentine’s.

Prior to the news that the star- studded L.A. band would not be playing, Phantom Planet’s Valentine’s show reportedly was sold out—owing much to the celebrity appeal of the band’s members. Drummer Jason Schwartzman, a nephew of film director Francis Ford Coppola, held the lead role in the movie Rushmore, while Greenwald has his own modeling and movie career (he acted in the recent cult flick Donnie Darko).

Although there would be no movie stars in the house on this night, even Superdrag had their high-profile reasons for nearly missing the Valentine’s gig: They taped a performance for Late Night With Conan O’Brien earlier in the evening. If Superdrag deserved props for hustling up to Albany to honor their Valentine’s show—despite the cancellation by Phantom Planet and the opener OK Go—they were rewarded when a fairly large and adoring crowd turned out to see them anyway, cheering their nearly every move.

“We’ll do our best to honor your requests, ’cause Superdrag likes Albany,” Davis announced after being bombarded by a chorus of shout-outs for favorite songs. From their first song, the shaggy-haired members of Superdrag had the sweaty glow of an especially hard-working rock band. After years of touring together, the Knoxville, Tenn., band have their tightly constructed, hook-filled, juggernaut-of-rock sound down cold. In fact, the mid-set song that Davis dedicated to the Phantom Planet singer—the appropriately titled and somewhat morose “Ambulance Driver”—marked the first time that the band had slowed their tempo all night, after pumping out a number of their most energetic songs.

The boyish-looking Davis, with his slight Southern drawl and unassuming manner, made for an appealing frontman. Aside from an occasional leap into the air, a triumphantly raised index finger, or a lit cigarette balanced precariously from his lips, Davis had none of the put-on affectations that other rock frontmen wear on their sleeves. Still, as Superdrag unleashed their dense sonic attack on anthemic songs such as “Keep It Close to Me,” “Phaser” and “Destination Ursa Major,” the dynamic Davis, underneath the stage lights, virtually appeared to vibrate along with the music.

Although they achieved major radio success in 1996 with their hit song “Sucked Out” (which the band played as their final encore at Valentine’s, despite the fact that they rarely play the song live anymore), Superdrag have yet to achieve anywhere near the fame accorded to similar, though less talented, pop bands. The band’s Valentine’s performance truly begged the question: Why aren’t these guys famous?

Two local bands, Hellmagnet and the Sixfifteens, answered the last-minute call to round out this bill. Featuring former members of One King Down and Stigmata, Hellmagnet reportedly were playing their debut show. If this really was their first time playing out, the four-piece band were impressive together. With vitriolic vocals, a propulsive beat and a heavy-as-hell guitar sound, Hellmagnet have a lot going for them already; their set was undermined only by the ear-shattering decibel count of their stage sound (a plus for some, maybe).

As the opener, the Sixfifteens also had a great deal to add to this show: They had a straight-up melodic punch that was infectious and airy on songs like guitarist Bob Carlton’s “Since Yesterday” and bassist Gene Davenport’s creative “Joe Jackson Meets T. Rex” reinterpretation of “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” The band seemed at their best, however, when they let loose and riffed out a dense cacophony that filled any of the spaces left by Joel Lilley’s frenzied drumming.

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