Push Kings: Solid set kicks off fall season for WCFM

This Saturday, the Push Kings performed a 90-minute set at Goodrich Hall, the climax of the WCFM blastoff. Harvard graduates who have been a band for over 4 years, the Push Kings aspire to live off rock and roll; they have cut two albums (1996’s Lonely Times and 1997’s Far Places), and they work all sorts of venues, including the occasional college surrounded by trees. Japan loves their pop sensibility; the Kings want the US to love them too. They have enjoyed nominal success in the states: both of their albums have charted in the CMJ Top 200 college music charts. The Push Kings are now hoping for a benign record company to swoop down upon them.

Outside of graduating crimson, the above description pertains to many not-quite-mainstream bands. WCFM chose to bring the Push Kings to Goodrich, however, because of the buzz the band’s music created among its listeners. Last spring WCFM contacted the Push Kings in hopes that they would play Musicfest. Since communication conflicts kept the band from attending, Saturday’s concert finally provided the long awaited opportunity for the Push Kings’ fans to enjoy them live. This concert suits the role that WCFM hopes to fulfill as a force that brings live music to Williamstown.

Goodrich opened at 9:05 PM; the Push Kings began at 9:25. Three to four dozen people shuffled atop Goodrich’s hardwood floor; a sparkling riff jangled over the precision rhythm section while poppy vocals floated above. The four men sported variations on the ever-popular ‘70s look: longish mops and retro outfits. The two guitarists (who are brothers) alternated on lead and rhythm guitar, singing lead and harmony vocals.

Stylistically, the music of the Push Kings encapsulates early to mid-’60s guitar pop. Their music at its best employs the euphonious chord progression that makes pop so pleasant; unfortunately, on occasion they forget to let the chords progress or allow for any other variation in the music. When it connects, though, the music glistens along the solid euphony, employing flowing melodies that retain an edge.

The Push Kings are tight as a band. Many songs juxtapose rollicking chords against atmospheric lapses against frenzied riffs against something else; regardless of the style, the band is always right there. Their songs often involve a complexity of contrast and growth that requires skillful composition. The craft required to write and play such music is present and obvious in the songs’ marriage of sparkling textures and pop sensibility.

One can always hop to this music, but can one sing along? Although the song lyrics follow pop parameters, they usually avoid banality, with the exception of a few vocal fillers taken straight from the Beach Boys’ songbook.

In short, the Push Kings have many good songs in their repertoire; they even play their less impressive songs with verve and skill. A personal favorite was “Love Takes Flight:” as a solid groove propelled the song upward, the band slammed key after key home with the dizzying force of Sisyphus’ rock. This groove, topped off with gifted wailing and harmonizing, kept Goodrich moving, an effect that many of the best songs achieved.

Showing their versatility, the Push Kings also jammed. Improvisation lightened many of their songs, with both guitarists executing melodious and/or harmonically interesting guitar solos. An even better moment took place midway through the concert, when one of the guitarist’s strings snapped, and he and his brother left the stage to doctor it. In the meantime, the bassist unleashed a throbbing arpeggio and began a melody. The drums kicked in; they jammed. Five minutes later one guitarist returned; all three jammed. The last one returned; you can guess what happened. It was a beautiful ten-minute accident and a well-played tribute to the Stone Roses.

The audience responded enthusiastically to the show. Adam Schreiber ’99, WCFM Personnel Director, commented that the “numbers (in attendance) were not that huge, but everyone had a good time.” Throughout the night some of the audience, those plastered to the wall or in the upper gallery, flowed in and out, while a core of forty to sixty listeners kept to the floor, many dancing, some tapping their feet. Even the band itself commented on the amount of dancing. People hopped, frolicked, swung their extremities and even swing danced.

After the show ended, concert-goer Ayesha Johnson ’99 stated that the show “was fun, lots of fun, very peppy.” Another attendee, Yuli Masinovsky ’99, admired the band’s “really great, full California tones.” Johnson, however, contended that the Push Kings sound is ultimately an East Coast one livened by elements of ska. Whether the result of ska or punk influences, angst or testosterone, the Push Kings definitely build on their 1960’s pop foundation with a modern edge. When you next hear one of their songs draw your own conclusions.

Ultimately, the concert made for a very enjoyable evening – I even found myself putting down my notebook and dancing along. After all, music is something that is better experienced as a listener than as a critic, and the Push Kings proved themselves a band to be enjoyed, not analyzed.

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