CONCERT REVIEW Are they copycats, or merely derivative?

Who cares. We Were Promised Jetpacks is earnest, and their songs are damn catchy.

We Were Promised Jetpacks

Middle East Downstairs

February 14, 2010

Music grows like old roadways: When the path cut by the avant-garde is narrow and new, only a few people can follow. As the road is widened subsequent artists, larger numbers of fans can travel. Some artists live their entire careers blazing trails for others to follow, and some spend their time retracing the same well-worn path over and over again. Following a fairly established Brit-rock tradition, We Were Promised Jetpacks gallivants along the roads laid out by their predecessors in style, producing ebullient, accessible music for a wide-audience.

Touring the U.S. from their home in Glasgow, We Were Promised Jetpacks is promoting their debut album These Four Walls (2009). The audience at the Valentine’s Day show was uncharacteristically mature for such a new band, more dresses and khakis than skinnies and silly hats. Surprisingly well-versed in the lyrics, large portions of the crowd sang along not only to the two singles “Quiet Little Voices” and “Roll Up Your Sleeves,” but also to lesser-known songs such as The Who-esque “Keeping Warm.” Not content with merely screaming the lyrics, the crowd actually droned the harmonies and melodies, keeping time by clapping and jumping.

The band members were unassuming and unpretentious. Dressed in jeans, t-shirts and sneakers, they didn’t exude the normal contemptuous cool that other indie rockers too frequently do. Their second song required a second take after they started off at the wrong tempo. However, the rest of the concert was seamless, carried by the lead singer’s strong, clear voice, the band’s upbeat and syncopated rhythms, and huge audience support.

In my mind, These Four Walls could have been an early Bloc Party album. Sharing many of the same rhythms, chords, constructions, and even melodies, the album does not innovate much. Despite this, their songs play to their strengths as a band — namely their lead singers vocal ability and their unfiltered rhythm guitar. Their music reeks of earnestness. Listening to their songs, you can hear that they are not ripping off their rather obvious influences like U2, or Bloc Party; rather, they are just four guys who really enjoyed Bloc Party’s “Silent Alarm,” and decided to model their musical style after it. We Were Promised Jetpacks isn’t copying Bloc Party; they are just repaving the road that Bloc Party laid down five years ago.

Differentiating between those who blatantly steal another band’s innovations and those who write music heavily influenced by another band’s earlier work is difficult and subjective. It is the difference between Vampire Weekend ripping off Islands and early Of Montreal albums sounding like A Hard Day’s Night (1964). In some ways, I think that the only way to judge is to hear the band’s own opinion of themselves and see whether they attribute any credit to their obvious source material. Regardless of whether you think We Were Promised Jetpacks is as earnest as they sound on their album, considering their meteoric rise and wide-appeal, they are definitely a band worth following.