Even when rock is really rocking, sometimes it just kinds of stands there.
This was the case at Lincoln Hall on March 2, 2014 when a sold-out crowd of seemingly boring people greeted We Were Promised Jetpacks, a Scottish indie rock band. Throughout the night, We Were Promised Jetpacks broke from the studio versions of its songs to kick it up a notch, to which the crowd responded with general polite approval, but not much more. The band performed very well and the lack of raw energy in the audience was no fault of We Were Promised Jetpacks. Maybe it was because it was a Sunday night, and the crowd was preoccupied with which movie would take best picture at The Oscars.
Or, maybe We Were Promised Jetpacks is a safe, middle of the road “rock” band for middle of the road people.
The best way to describe We Were Promised Jetpacks, for those not in the know, is via the band’s contemporaries also hailing from the other side of the pond. The band is not as catchy as Oasis, not as heavy as Biffy Clyro, not as cheeky as Arctic Monkeys, and not as anthemic as Snow Patrol. Somewhere in the middle of this four-street intersection lives We Were Promised Jetpacks. It is the band for fans who used to really love rock music, but now really love their long term relationship more, and have found safe middle ground by dusting off their ill-fitting band tees and bringing their significant other to a show that is bearable for almost anyone.
Singer Adam Thompson stays in the same low-tenor range most of the time, his voice drenched in such syrupy reverb that it’s rare to pick out the occasional lyric. Most songs in the set delivered the same combination of dynamics, with the ends of songs discernibly louder in hopes of eliciting more of a crowd reaction.
Though the show was sold out and packed, the energy in the room never exceeded a dull rumble, with the occasional yell breaking through from the otherwise subdued crowd.
Almost every song, including set staples “Quiet Little Voices,” “Roll Up Your Sleeves” and set closer “It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning” had potential for stadium sized sing alongs of “Whoahs” and “Ohs.” To their credit, Thompson and his bandmates don’t bait the crowd to sing even when the low hanging fruit is ripe for the picking, though a more involved crowd might have gone for it anyway.
The stage set-up was minimal, with the band silhouetted by blue and white for the majority of the performance, with the occasional dash of red illuminating the smoke from fog machines in-between songs. As usual, sound at Lincoln Hall was impeccable, with the mix sounding great in every corner of the 500-capacity room.
The highlight of the evening was a moment that, while planned, was unique enough to make an impact. Just before the climax of “Sore Thumb” from the album Pit of the Stomach, the music cut away and Thompson switched his reverb off for a rare exposed moment where he growled “Let’s see what comes crawling back in.”
The change in pace snapped the crowd out of its shoe-gaze daze and they actually reacted with gusto, and for but a moment, it was a rock concert.
There is hope for rock and roll with We Were Promised Jetpacks. It is worth noting that the most interesting songs breaking from the band’s formula were the ones introduced as “new” or “from the upcoming album.” These tracks had memorable grooves and riffs that didn’t rely on the wall-of-sound tactic easily achieved when a band has three guitars on stage. Also worth noting, drummer Darren Lackie is a star, opting for more complicated fills and polyrhythms in songs where simple 4-4 pocket playing would suffice.
Toward the end of the set, the band thanked Chicago and select members of its touring team, singling out the sound engineer. During the set closer, Thompson screamed off-mic at the audience, encouraging them to “Come on!” While the request may be a standard from the band to get the crowd more riled up, it was actually necessary for this show. We Were Promised Jetpacks had energy, performed well, and played hard, but maybe rock and roll should be left to let die, since this safe and sound, ready for bed before 11 p.m. on a school night strain is only cashing in on the idea of rock and roll, fooling crowds with a wall of sound. Perhaps, this is the reason a sold out crowd could somehow still seem so apathetic.