“I feel great,” Efrem Schulz told the sold-out crowd at the Troubadour Tuesday night. From most bands, this would be boilerplate stage patter, a statement on the order of “Hello, Cleveland!’ But it seemed particularly out of character at a Death by Stereo show; if nothing else, the Orange County quintet specializes in making music engineered to make you feel bad. “I spill my guts for you … I hope it makes you sick,” he sings in “Wasted Words,” from “Into the Valley of Death,” their most recent Epitaph release.
Schulz delivers the lyrics in a passionate yowl that obliterates just about every vowel sound, turning every song into an incoherent scream. The music behind him is just as strenuous and nearly as irrational.
They play an antsy, frustrated form of hardcore that has more in common with tortured prog rock than the single-minded roar of early punk. Drummer Todd Hennig changes drum pattern every few bars; his playing is complex and laborious, but he never swings. Paul Miner’s bass lines are impressively twisty but too busy to lock into the beat. With little room to maneuver, Jim Miner and Dan Palmer’s guitars work up a slow and deliberate maelstrom of sound over the rhythm section, occasionally adding leads that have the preening delicacy of Yes’ Steve Howe.
For all their multilayered fury, the songs are disappointingly monolithic. Once the different elements are introduced, they clatter along without change. But the high school aged aud was caught up in the music, shaking their fists and screaming along. Like earlier parental irritants such as Grand Funk Railroad and Black Sabbath, Death by Stereo’s appeal can be explained by the fact that they sound loud at any volume.
Co-headliners the Explosion were equally energetic, but more direct. They follow in the footsteps of earlier Boston bands such as Volcano Suns and Cave Dogs, writing and performing terse and tuneful punk rock. Singer Matt Hock has a down-to-earth everyman quality — it’s easy to imagine sitting next to him at a bar talking about the Red Sox, and he barrels through the tunes with a throaty bray.
They’re less cartoonish than contemporary pop punk such as Good Charlotte and Blink-182, which may hamper them commercially but makes the Explosions an enjoyably unpretentious young band.