Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review + Setlist: Hum Doesn't Let Nostalgia Get in the Way of a Good Rock Show, Saturday, May 22 at the Old Rock House

Posted By on Sun, May 23, 2010 at 2:39 PM

click to enlarge ANNIE ZALESKI
  • Annie Zaleski

It's a good rule of thumb to keep expectations low for a reunion show, especially if it's one involving a band that doesn't play together very often. That way, if a group is particularly good, you can be pleasantly surprised. If band is only okay - or, heaven forbid, terrible - your disappointment can be (somewhat) mitigated.

Hum's sold-out reunion show at the Old Rock House, its first St. Louis appearance since December 2000, thankfully fell into the former category. At times, the Champaign, Illinois, band sounded a bit rusty; portions of songs dragged or just felt less than locked-together. But more often than not, Hum sounded like a young, hungry band with something to prove.

The adoring, headbanging crowd - which was comprised of superfans, people revisiting their youth, kids who missed the band originally and even pockets of random drunk Cardinals fans -- didn't need Hum to do much of anything besides show up and play old favorites. The band obliged, of course: It opened with "The Pod," from its biggest album, You'd Prefer an Astronaut. The song embodies Hum's methodology: seismic-waves riffs hover somewhere between the intersection of metal, post-rock and punk, while calculus-level rhythms and ominous basslines rumble together beneath the fray. Vocalist/guitarist Matt Talbott screamed his throat raw at the song's end, like he did on the studio version, and nailed it.

Hum's sound - drop-D tuning, chugging riffs, shuddering bass and thundering-hooves drums -- has been aped by many, many, many terrible bands. (For what it's worth, the band itself also owes quite a debt to Nirvana and the Cure.) These imitators have dumbed-down this sound rather severely, so much so that hearing Hum now unfortunately can conjure some really awful neanderthal-rock.

What saves Hum - and what likely prevented the band from becoming more popular originally - are smarts, nuance and talent. "Afternoon with the Axolotis," as it was on 1998's underrated Downward is Heavenward, was a shimmering, ambient meditation. "Green to Me" built and built higher on a bed of foggy chords, but Talbott's vocals - pensive, longing and vulnerable - made the song a serene experience. The mega-hit "Stars," in contrast, felt a bit perfunctory and slowed down noticeably in the middle; its climbing-up-stairs chords felt a bit sluggish.

But as individuals, the members of Hum were ferocious. Bassist Jeff Dimpsey and guitarist Tim Lash held down the sides of the stage and bashed out their parts with steely resolve. Drummer Bryan St. Pere was maniacal, a heavy hitter that shook his kit to its nuts and bolts. Talbott isn't known much outside of gear-geek circles for being a fantastic guitar player, but last night, he clawed out chords and effects with ease -- making the case that more people should recognize his talents. His voice hasn't aged a bit either; the metal-plated, warmly robotic intonations were as soothing as a lullaby. The quartet coalesced best on standout "Scraper," which felt like a blow to the head from a sledgehammer; the song's gnarled punk riffs and strident tempo resembled Fugazi or Jawbreaker.

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