Early in Imperial Teen’s show at the Troubadour, singer-guitarist Will Schwartz told the small but enthusiastic aud, “This is our holiday party.” On most nights, the San Francisco quartet would be the perfect band to celebrate with. But Friday night, their perf felt flat.
Their four albums — including this year’s “The Hair the TV the Baby & the Band” (Merge) — are as sparkly as tinsel and brightly colored as a string of Christmas lights. Awash with bouncy verses, instantly memorable call-and-response choruses and fist-pumping hooks, with the lyrics mixing playground taunts, tales of sexual confusion and everyday embarrassments, their adult bubblegum is a confection as sweet and potent as spiked punch.
Show was the second date of a short West Coast tour, so it’s possible the band was a little rusty; bassist-singer Jone Stebbins complained about equipment problems that caused them to abandon one song after a few bars. Except for the buoyant snap of Lynn Truell’s drumming (her tumbling fills gave “Sweet Potato” its gangly, Who-like energy, while her insistent snare drove “Baby’s” hip-shaking, B-52’s-styled groove), things were subdued.
Neither Roddy Bottum nor Schwartz sang with much conviction and gone was the instrument switching that gave previous perfs an antic, devil-may-care sense of fun. In its place was a kind of glum humor. The songs still twinkled, but the wrapping was dull.