Review: The Sounds rev up for a feisty, energetic set at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg
The Sounds can’t say they never got their shot.
They broke into America from Sweden more than a decade ago, around the time blog buzz made it possible for any band, anywhere, to get big in a hurry. Their post-punk-meets-New Wave singles were played on TV and in commercials. They toured with Foo Fighters, No Doubt and the Strokes. They were strident, swaggering, and they played like they meant it, with a fierce lead singer who can dominate the stage at the drop of a hat.
They were on their way to big things. It was in their grasp. And then ... it never really came to pass, did it? The noise surrounding the Sounds died down.
It’s tough to say why — especially after Tuesday, when the Sounds returned to Tampa Bay for the first time in five years, delivering a feisty, devil-may-care performance at St. Petersburg’s State Theatre that managed to win over a modest crowd whose energy level didn’t always match that of the band. Even after fans had trouble getting it up for an encore, the Sounds came back with more fire than ever, reminding us all why they got their shot in the first place.
Singer Maja Ivarsson is understandably the Sounds’ focal point, the spunky singer with a voice somewhere between a chirp and a bark. Wearing a black leather jacket and safe-for-work little black dress (and, as fans near the stage couldn’t help but notice, not too concerned about showing off what she was wearing underneath), she spit, smoked, swigged Corona, stomped her heels, yanked up her skirt, kicked her legs high, prodded, fist-bumped and cuddled with front-row fans.
There’s a bit of Billy Idol in Ivarsson, right down to the coy sneer in her voice, and her punky passion gets more fiery with every song. One minute she’s stutter-stepping across the stage like Tina Turner, the next she’s beating her chest, grabbing her crotch and hocking loogs up into the air. Before Take It the Wrong Way, she lit a cigarette, jabbing it at the crowd like an accusatory finger, then flicking it into the pit at the end.
But as compelling as Ivarsson can be, she did know when to sit back and smoke while her bandmates played, which actually turned out to be a good thing — especially in the case of lanky guitarist, keyboardist and all-around musical whiz Jesper Anderberg. Every time his guitar roared to life — especially on the furious Shake Shake Shake and buzzsaw-revving 4 Songs & a Fight — the stage did the same. On the other hand, anytime he hunched back over his synths, or ducked back behind a piano for The Best of Me, any dip in rock 'n’ roll volume was countered by a deepening of the Sounds’ sound, reflecting the more expansive scope of the Sounds’ last two albums, Weekend (2013) and Something to Die For (2011).
Save for a brief two-song balled interlude midway through, the Sounds’ 90-plus-minute set built up steam with every song, especially on the hugely entertaining and energetic Painted By Numbers and America, and the punkish Outlaw and Ego, on which Anderberg joined guitarist Félix Rodríguez and drummer Fredrik Blond for an extended percussion-solo outro.
It’s a mystery why the Sounds didn’t get bigger in the States. Then again, they never seemed that concerned about what we thought of them. Listen to the lyrics from the title track to their 2002 debut Living in America: “We’re not living in America, but we’re not sorry / I knew there was something that we never had, but we don’t worry.” And this, from 2006’s prickly yet undeniable Song With a Mission: “Hey, what do you say / I got a 15-million dollar contract coming my way / This song is not for you / only for people living like we do.”
The kind of success America envisioned for the Sounds back in 2004 may have eluded them, but in 2014, they’re still marching to their own insistent beat, just as they always have. Maybe we’re the ones who couldn’t keep up.
Opening for a Swedish rock band must have rubbed off on opening act Blondfire, who totally channeled the Cardigans on minor hit Waves. It isn’t just singer Erica Driscoll’s uncanny vocal resemblance to Nina Persson; it’s also the band’s charming presence and style of easygoing, deceptively simple pop-rock. Like the Cardigans, the Sundays or Stars (closer Where the Kids Are shares a bit of DNA with Elevator Love Letter), Blondfire play rock destined to warm your heart while you bob your head.
For that reason, Blondfire made for a nice, smooth palatte cleanser between the wild Sounds and the night’s first opener, Ghost Beach. The New York electro-pop duo did their best to liven up the sparse early-evening crowd, energetically fusing squiggly synths, slick syncopation and Nile Rodgers licks. They could make a killing as a live Daft Punk cover band (they actually did come back later in the evening for a quick pre-Sounds DJ set), but instead, their irresistably sunny album Blonde is full of shoulder-shaking pop, from UB40-esque dancehall (Without You) to loosey-goosey beach grooves (Miracle, the best unknown summer jam of the past three years). May this self proclaimed “tropical grit pop” band find their way back to our shores soon.
— Jay Cridlin, tbt*