The Upshot: One of the last great American power pop bands gets its acknowledged classic ’94 album pre-examined, and adds a terrific live show featuring Tommy Keene in the lineup.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Unhappily M.I.A. for the last 12 years or so, Velvet Crush is one of the last great power pop bands. If the Rhode Island/Illinois/L.A. duo/trio/quartet (depending on what era you catch them in) isn’t breaking its long silence with new music, at least it’s doing it with something worthwhile. Pre-Teenage Symphony documents the work around its classic 1994 LP Teenage Symphonies to God, containing eight pre-album demos and eight live tracks from the subsequent tour. (Everything here was previously issued on the self-released collections Melody Freaks and Rock Concert, but those were in such limited release and are so long out of print they might as well have not existed.)
As expected, the versions of TStG tracks included here sound a bit more raw and less refined than their major label counterparts, though not so raw as be anywhere near lo-fi. But the band’s patented blend of the Who, the Byrds and the Raspberries boils down to extra potency here, fueled by the joy of recording excellent new songs for the first time. Joined by guest guitarists Mitch Easter, Phil Hurley and Dave Gibbs (the latter two from the Gigolo Aunts), the Crush rocks, rolls and harmonizes its way gleefully through such rich nuggets as “Hold Me Up,” “Time Wraps Around You” and “This Life is Killing Me.” In addition the band takes a bash at compadres Three Hour Tour’s “Turn Down” – just right for them – and an otherwise unrecorded gem, the rocking “Not Standing Down.”
The second half of the disk contains eight rocking tracks from the TStG tour, recorded at the Metro in Chicago while opening for the Jesus & Mary Chain. Augmented by Tommy Keene on lead guitar, the band rips through tracks from both TStG and its debut album In the Presence of Greatness with all the extra muscle and energy you’d expect from a performance by a group hitting its peak. Harmonies are scarce, with vocals relying almost solely on bassist Paul Chastain’s gritty leads, but the combo of sweet melodies meeting in-concert might makes that a minor quibble. As Keene adds tasteful guitar explosions, the Crush sounds confident and vibrant on “Ash and Earth,” “Atmosphere” and an especially powerful “My Blank Pages.” Bringing the set crashing to a close with a fiery cover of 20/20’s “Remember the Lightning,” Velvet Crush reminds us how empty the void is left by its continued absence.
DOWNLOAD: “Not Standing Down,” “My Blank Pages (live),” “This Life is Killing Me”