It was a tale of two young rock bands going in two different directions at the House of Blues on Tuesday: Top-billed Baltimore pop-punk group SR-71 has lost much of the momentum it had going into the new year, while melodic Austin, Texas, quintet Dexter Freebish appears poised to make a move up to the next level.
SR-71 (named for a high-speed airplane) came out strong last summer when its debut album “Now You See Inside” (RCA) yielded the alternative-rock radio hit “Right Now,” a super-catchy, Blink-182-inspired nugget.
However, the band has failed to capitalize on that fast start, and, in front of little more than a half-full club, offered little evidence to suggest we’ll hear much more from these guys.
Singer-guitarist Mitch Allen was an underwhelming and disingenuous frontman, spouting cliched lyrics and striking plenty of rock star poses. The small, mostly female audience responded to most of the hourlong set with only polite applause, save for a couple dozen devotees up front who screamed and sang throughout.
The music of SR-71 is clean and slick and predictable, and in concert fails to ever catch fire, despite the members’ cock-sure swagger and arena-rock pretense. Guitarist Mark Beauchemin ripped off the solo from Def Leppard’s “Photograph” for their song “Fame,” earning more laughs than cheers.
Making matters worse here was the band’s many poorly chosen cover songs, including a lame medley of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” and Ozzy’s “Crazy Train,” surpassed only by the show-closing rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
Dexter Freebish (named for an Austin roller coaster) offered a much more engaging pop-rock sound and style, and was by far the better of the two bands, even drawing a larger crowd than the headliners.
Boasting numerous well-crafted pop songs (many from its 2000 Capitol debut “A Life of Saturdays”) and a convincing delivery that belies the band’s rookie status, the photogenic five-piece made the most of their first L.A. show.
Such infectious numbers as “Leaving Town” (winner last year of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest) and excellent new single “My Madonna,” a cryptic tale of romantic obsession, left a lasting and positive impression.
SR-71 opens for Bon Jovi at Anaheim Pond on Friday.