We Were Promised Jetpacks possess probably the most thematically loaded band name in the pantheon of indie rock. While FatCat label mates (and notable influences) Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad also have names that emote in strange ways, “We Were Promised Jetpacks” is practically a short story in four words; an absurdly funny/sad thesis statement for a band known to punctuate their most heart wrenching and sprawling compositions with a wry smile ripe with bracing wit.
After witnessing WWPJP play their first concert ever in Pittsburgh last Thursday at Mr. Small’s, it’s obvious the Edinburgh group’s particular brand of concision doesn’t simplify their music and emotions so much as focus them. What resulted was a blistering wall of potent indie rock that proved to be epic beyond the usual anthemic signifiers of surging guitars and sing along choruses. Lead singer, guitarist and main songwriter Adam Thompson engaged the audience with his quietly devastating stage presence, blunt lyrics and steely dynamic musicianship, subtly revealing a performance of grand romantic gestures from a truly charismatic man.
The bulk of the set was comprised of highlights from the WWPJP’s 2009 urgent FatCat debut These Four Walls, along with a handful of promising new tracks, sporadically named but definitely in line with most of the group’s catalog. The thunderous “Quiet Little Voices” provided one of the show’s linchpins, exhibiting the group’s Spartan, post-punk influenced guitar work and accentuating the magnetic nature of the WWPJP’s best material. The track’s towering chorus was supported and earned by equally desperate verses showcasing Thompson’s ascending vocals (only slightly tinged with his native Scottish brogue) and penchant for repeating particular lyrics for effect (“I’m young again,” “I’ll die for you,” and “I’ll fall for you” are all repeated at least four times in succession). It’s a muscular song heightened by emotion, pointed and effecting rather than heavy handed and melodramatic.
“It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning,” the side one, track one from These Four Walls, provided the show’s most thoroughly engrossing performance, arriving almost exactly in the middle of the set. WWPJP exerted impressive control over song’s quiet/loud transitions, slowly building the tightly spiraling guitar work into a barrage of pummeling storm winds. Thompson again drove home the lyrical repetition, (this time with the particularly violent “Your body was black and blue”) but focused his vocals into a sustained crescendo rather than devolving into an indecipherable howl. When the pieces all came together for the rollicking finale’s pulsating conclusion, an extend soft outro was added and provided a stark contrast between the song’s fragile and pummeling moments, amplifying WWPJP’s already epic composition.
We Were Promised Jetpacks played with a sustained conviction that gradually pulled the audience in song after song. The amount of sheer energy and focus they exerted during their most intense tracks was palpable. Any time these native Scot’s make their way back to the Steel City, the show is simply a must see. Smoldering, passionate rock and roll played at its loudest and most sincere doesn’t come around very often, make sure you are paying attention.