The stage at the 9:30 Club was overloaded with gear for three bands. In a haze of cigarette smoke, the five members of ima robot, the night’s opening act, meandered onstage.
“Hello there. We’re ima robot,” announced lead singer Alex Ebert. Then ima robot’s power-garage rock shook the audience. The band tore through a ferocious set, including “Dynomite,” “A is for Action” and “Dirty Life.” Rock music was formed by synth-pop rhythms of the ’80s mixed with a raw power and an abstraction like that of the Talking Heads. Ebert danced and slinked around onstage, complete with an oblong mullet reminiscent of an early David Bowie. Lead guitarist “Timmy the Terror” convulsed with seizure-esque intensity and spat an average of two times per song (thankfully, to stage right), all while pounding out blistering power chords. The band ended its set with a well-executed destruction of its equipment. Timmy threw his guitar to the ground while Ebert helped drummer Joey Waronker kick over his drum set. Synthethizer player/guitarist Young Oligee and bassist Justin Meldal-Johnson took out whatever was left standing.
The French Kicks were the perfect chaser to ima robot. Matt Stinchcomb’s and Josh Wise’s simple guitar lines were intertwined with the melodic and harmonic sensibilities of lead singer Nick Stumpf, who towers over his bandmates at six-feet-six-inches. The blend cooled the audience down after ima robot’s fire. The set progressed with grace and precision, propelled by complex, off-kilter drum patterns. The French Kicks’ quieter, more sweetly-flavored grooves were a great counterpart to ima robot’s acidic rock. The band left the stage in an appropriately tranquil fashion, and the crowd was officially won over.
Hot Hot Heat had a lot to live up to after the ideal one-two punch of its opening acts. The crowd was more than ready to believe in the band, even chanting, “Hot Hot Heat!” The band finally walked onstage while the frantic dance-punk of Rapture’s “House of Jealous Lovers” played on the speakers. The stage was set for a great closing act. Opening with “Talk to Me, Dance with Me,” Hot Hot Heat continued with material from its album Make Up the Breakdown. The boys from British Columbia gave it their all, with lead singer/keyboardist Steve Bays sweating and dancing to songs from Breakdown. The expected highlight of the set was “Bandages,” the moderately successful hit that closed the encore. Bassist Dustin Hawthorne best exemplified the band’s desperate energy during the song, executing a perfect stage dive. As an independent entity, Hot Hot Heat’s set was satisfying, although the energy created onstage seemed a bit forced after the Kicks’ fluid grace . But it was still a good close to a great show.