By Gianmaria Franchini
Coaster’s bar isn’t conducive to live music. The low grumble of rolling bowling balls and the snap of trampled pins float in from the adjoining bowling alley. Not large, the bar resonates with the acoustics of a middle school gym.
On a night when the stars were aligned with calamity, three young Bay Area bands overcame the drawbacks of their venue to give their audience one dance-worthy performance.
On Friday the 13th, The Blind, Bear on Bear, and Tempo No Tempo played a loosely enforced 21-and-over show at Coaster’s, across from the Boardwalk.
The opening act, East Bay’s own The Blind, had a difficult time settling into their set. The seven or so effect pedals lined at lead guitarist Derek Jones’ feet were unwieldy and excessive. Singer Klaus Larson’s three successive guitar switches were just as unwarranted.
But as the crowd became more receptive and the sound of bowlers dwindled away, the four-piece willed their way out of languor and into consistency.
A bluesy interlude, complete with an impromptu guest appearance on harmonica by a bar patron whose college days are far, far behind him, was the highlight.
The end result was a sort of homegrown rock with a touch of melancholy and infrequent, though welcomed, bursts of jolting distortion.
Bear on Bear didn’t headline, but they harnessed the audience’s attention and didn’t let go.
The moment they broke into “Better Than Nothing,” from their self-title EP, a song that lead singer Dylan Travis admits is about a “catastrophic relationship,” the dance floor began to swell with enthused members of an otherwise mulling crowd. They played a frenetic, tight set.
Travis’ vocals shifted back and forth from smooth croon to controlled shriek, and guitarist Ian Benedetti thrashed about with genuine head-banging vigor.
Benedetti’s back-up vocals were a forceful but soothing counterpoint to Travis’ lurching voice.
Bassist Brian Kennedy lurked and turned out solid bass lines, and Tyler Corelitz’ steady thwack kept everything in time. For the duration of their performance, hometown fans could forget that they were practically in a bowling alley.
UC Berkeley foursome Tempo No Tempo closed with a formidable and energetic set, but they did not turn Coaster’s into quite as raucous a dance party. Like The Blind, their musical arrangements are busy, and they took some time to collect themselves before delivering, but by their third song they had attracted a number of dedicated dancers.
“Static,” a dance-inducing number that begins with a catchy keyboard riff then quickly evolves, was played with a level of urgency that characterizes the band’s sound.
Keyboardist Chris Cadena played half the riff and singer Tyler McCauley bantered with the crowd, saying, “That was a tantalizing tease,” before the crowd broke into a dance-craze.
There were times when Cadena’s understated vocals were stifled by Tempo’s restless style. But the band was at its best when hashing out solid synthesized dance riffs over fuzzy echoing guitars.
Their tongue-in-cheek cover of MIMS “This is Why I’m Hot” was endearing and drew the remaining stragglers off their feet while McCauley blared the repetitive chorus from atop a half-stack.
Bear on Bear’s performance of their second-to-last song, “Effort,” was a lesson in crowd interaction.
_Dylan shouted “Give me some effort/ Shake it like an infant,” and erupted in a spasmodic dance. The crowd did too, and there was a moment when no one cared how silly they looked. It was more infectious than infantile.
Bear on Bear will play Caffe Pergolesi on May 19. All three bands covered have MySpace profiles._