After less than a year, the nu-garage revival is already in its second wave of buzz bands, most of them bouncing down on American shores after endless hype from the British press and almost all eventually disappointing more picky American ears. But, inevitably, one band’s got to break that mold. Enter the Mooney Suzuki, personal favorite of the genre’s first big thing the Strokes and not just garage’s next big thing but possibly its best thing, period. What makes a band like this great can’t be captured in the studio, though: the Mooney Suzuki’s second album, last year’s “Electric Sweat” (originally on the indie label Gammon and recently re-released on Columbia), paints only half the picture. The album effectively (and noisily) establishes the now-standard premise of a black-clad group of New York art-school students with auxiliary degrees in noise and punk history, this time led by Zoolander look-alike Sammy James Jr.
Live, the Mooney Suzuki proved that it’s much more than that basic equation. Picture Ray Davies, Joey Ramone, Iggy Pop and Pete Townshend forming a band; the imagined sound is close to the Mooney Suzuki’s growling, hyperkinetic, riff-heavy din. That description, though, still doesn’t do justice to the group’s overcharged performance. Their gloriously over-the-top set included band-approved crowd clap-alongs, behind-the-back feedback guitar solos and James’ death-defying, hanging-from-the-rafters encore, all unleashed with an unstoppable energy that found even the industry-laden crowd starting a large mosh pit. If, as critics of the band suggest, the Mooney Suzuki’s stage show is more contrived than spontaneous, that’s only because they’ve found the perfect formula for what works in rock, right now.
All of which made New York’s Longwave (the second of the four acts to perform on what was billed as the “Advance Warning Tour”) look less impressive as the night rolled on. The group’s major-label debut, “The Strangest Things” (RCA), is a solid piece of Brit-influenced rock, and at this show songs like the Radiohead-meets-U2 jangle of “Tidal Wave” were enhanced by unexpected, overdriven guitars and passionately meandering vocals. Were this band on a more subdued bill, their smart songwriting and charismatic delivery could have rightfully been appreciated. With the Mooney Suzuki’s overwhelming blast closing the night, though, Longwave’s mellower take on guitar rock seemed but a well-intentioned afterthought.