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Trans Am Revisits The Future At Sonar

October 7, 2011

Trans Am, the post-rock trio founded in Bethesda, Maryland in the mid-’90s that has since spread its members across the country, recently reissued its 1999 album Futureworld. Currently the band is on tour, jumping on the ever-more-crowded bandwagon of acts playing one of their best known albums in its entirety in concert. But then, it’s easy to be cynical about the prospect of a Futureworld show for someone who’s always considered 1997′s Surrender To The Night to be the band’s true masterpiece. Trans Am is always a great live band regardless of what material it’s playing, however, and the band’s show in Baltimore on Thursday night was no exception.

Futureworld represents the apex of Trans Am’s obsessions with cheesy old-fashioned futurism, vocoders, and Kraftwerk-style emotionally detached machine music. So the band appeared onstage in goofy sleeveless shirts, headbands, and dookie rope gold chains, which would have been just embarrassing if they didn’t rock so hard. Trans Am  has a rep for campy, ironic affectations, but the fact is that these are three seriously creative, talented musicians who happen not to take themselves too seriously.

Futureworld‘s retrofuturistic soundscapes, vocoded hooks and occasional saxophone solos translated to the stage surprisingly well, with drummer Sebastian Thomson pumping up the power of every groove. But the album was always front-loaded with its most uptempo tunes, and perhaps the band sensed that the closing track, “Sad And Young,” while the record’s loveliest melodic moment, doesn’t make for a great ending to a set. So Trans Am stayed onstage for a couple of rocking songs from the same era: “I Want It All” and “Play In The Summer” from Futureworld‘s 2000 follow-up The Red Line.

The night’s opening act, New York trio Psychic Paramount, gave the headliners some competition for the most impressive noise of the night with an incredibly loud set of thunderous guitar/bass/drum instrumentals in off-kilter time signatures. At first, the smoke machine Psychic Paramount brought with them seemed like a silly arena rock affectation, but as the club filled with thick smoke, tinted an ominous red by the stage lights, the band’s overwhelming, sinister auditory assault found a perfect visual accompaniment.

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