Although embraced by Anglophiles and the critical community upon their Stateside debut nearly a decade ago, the Catherine Wheel was hampered by a lack of mainstream precedent for its moody modern prog-rock. But in the wake of successes by Bush and Radiohead, the quartet seems poised for bigger things.
At this sold-out date — the last of a passel of “fan-appreciation” club gigs — the group focused on testing material from its forthcoming “Wishville” album, its first for Sony Music. While a few of the newer offerings elicited a positive response from the crowd, the real cheers were reserved for past glories — like “Black Metallic,” which stretched sinuously over curves not present in its recorded version.
Frontman Rob Dickinson, whose cousin, Bruce, sings for the metal band Iron Maiden, is an odd duck onstage, part regular T-shirted bloke and part keening vocal acrobat. A similar dichotomy permeated this evening’s set: Grandiose sonic ideas were floated, then tempered with radio-friendly riffs, imparting a pleasant-but-workmanlike vibe.
Perhaps the kinks have yet to be worked out — particularly when it comes to integrating new bassist Ben Ellis — but songs like “Gasoline” and the opening “Ballad of a Running Man” came off as unusually leaden. The lack of dynamic was compounded by the homogeneity of the “Wishville” material, most of which chugged along at a similar middling tempo, with little in the way of embellishment.
That changed a bit toward the end of the set, when Dickinson pushed aside his reserve for a sweeping “Creme Caramel” and a hard-charging encore rendition of “All of That.” For the most part, however, the Catherine Wheel seemed bent on bringing the endangered tradition of “headphone music” into the new millennium. That, in itself, isn’t a bad notion — just one not well-suited to the concert hall.