Hot Rod Circuit / Cartel - live in Cambridge (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Hot Rod Circuit / Cartel

live in Cambridge (2011)

live show

New Hampshire's Smoke Signals was in the midst of their opening set when I arrived. Middle-of-the-road alt-country rock I'm not too into. Competent stuff but a little boring.

The Appreciation Post was next. Apparently they're one of those longer-running locals that don't find much success or recognition but push through and keep going. (So much for the hope of an appropriate namesake.) Props for that sort of attitude, and a good, energetic vibe on stage, but I was not feeling them musically. It was like all the Motion City Soundtrack songs on Commit This to Memory I didn't like.

I'm not sure if Hot Rod Circuit has brought Cartel on tour before, but if not, it's a long-overdue pairing. Despite Cartel's poppier inclincations, one could definitely detect the influence of HRC's playful guitar work on their early material (The Ransom EP, namely).

Admittedly, I haven't listened to them since 2005's Chroma, skipping out on 2007's self-titled, Bubble-produced affair and 2009's Cycles. And not to so rudely dismiss the latter half of the band's catalogue, but the best thing they could have done is come out and play at least a decent amount of old stuff to capitalize on the nostalgia in the air (even if said "nostalgia" only dates so far back as 2004). But that's exactly what they did, thankfully, with the majority of the set coming from The Ransom and Chroma. They even skipped over Cartel completely. They did play a pair of tracks from their new EP, In Stereo, which were actually pretty good. They weren't a far cry from the band's early mix of moderate '00s emo/punk influence and pop-rock motion, but there's a few more ambitious sonic flourishes and pedals that make it a little bit different and interesting.

This was also the first set that garnered any sort of real response from the crowd. They were the right age to have obviously resonated with older cuts like "Luckie St." and "Honestly." Even a dude in a Killing the Dream shirt was visibly pumped.

Their drummer was entertaining to watch, since he hit pretty hard. Also, Will Pugh talked about being 19 and infatuated with the HRC song "Radiation Suit" so much, they more or less ripped it off for "The City Never Sleeps." Both bands played said songs, so the audience could even compare for themselves. That was nice of them.

Set list (8:55-9:35):

  1. Faster Ride
  2. Runaway
  3. Burn This City
  4. American Dreams
  5. The City Never Sleeps
  6. Conduit
  7. Luckie St.
  8. Say Anything (Else)
  9. Honestly
  10. The Perfect Mistake

But when Hot Rod Circuit came out and kicked it into high gear with the awesome, chugging "Now or Never," the audience began to lose whatever semblance of shit they may have had prior. I don't think I've ever seen an audience react to the band like this, but then, I've never seen them as close to New Haven, Conn. (their sort-of-hometown) as I had before tonight. They were riotous and loving it--without being obnoxious, though, which was cool.

The Middle East has a pretty strict policy about stage-diving and crowd-climbing, but they were letting the first few guys get away with it for a while. Then, during the last few songs, a couple dudes found themselves escorted out when they decided to have a little more fun than the rules allowed. Bummer.

Most of the band's set came from Sorry About Tomorrow, which I was pretty happy about since that was my introduction to the band and remains my favorite record of theirs (as I imagine is the case for many other fans). And while one would think that the presence of guitarist Casey Prestwood would result in a flood of their material receiving a healthy dose of twang as a result, that wasn't at all the case: The songs retained their core emotion and straightforward rocking the band had done so well for a decade, with only a little bit of pedal steel addition on some of the cuts from the last two albums (and a short acoustic break that stripped down two older songs for an interesting stylistic turn). It all came off with the right mix of ruggedness and polish. Sure, they only took a four-year break, but they sounded as strong as ever.

Set list (9:55-11:03):
  1. Now or Never
  2. At Nature's Mercy
  3. Inhabit
  4. Safely
  5. Weak Warm
  6. Radio Song
  7. Remover
  8. Stateside
  9. 45's
  10. The Best You Ever Know
  11. Radiation Suit
  12. Let's Go Home
  13. Camo (acoustic)
  14. This Is Not the Time or Place (acoustic)
  15. Cool for One Night
  16. The Power of Vitamins
  17. Supersad
  18. Flight 89 (North American)
  19. The Pharmacist
    Encore (11:04-11:13):
  20. Irish Car Bomb
  21. Low