CONCERT REVIEW If high school’s a bitch, become a rock star

Rogue Wave’s special brand of honest, tender rock

2764 roguewave
Rogue Wave transcends indie labels, weaving nerdy charm into its earnest rock songs.
Courtesy of Fresh Clean Media

Rogue Wave

Paradise Rock Club

March 1st, 2010

Returning from a hiatus that has kept them off the stage and out of the spotlight for the last couple of years, Rogue Wave kicked off the American portion of their latest tour at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. Sporting a new keyboardist and a fairly recent guitarist, Rogue Wave sprouted no pretension in the two years since their last studio visit, playing more than 100 minutes of honest, earnest rock to the mostly full ‘Dise.

Founded in 2002, Rogue Wave attracted a “college plus” aged crowd, that eluded the standard categorizations of “hipster,” “indie,” and “early-thirties music enthusiast,” and shed some light on the diverse, almost disparate groups of people that enjoy their music. While not particularly energetic, the crowd knew the band’s work well, and were vocal about the songs they would like to hear. In an unusual display of attentiveness, the lead singer changed their planned encore, acquiescing to a slew of requests for one of the band’s best songs, “Chicago X 12.”

For a band as dependent on layered vocal harmonies as Rogue Wave, playing such a long, extemporaneous show with a new line-up was bold. Thankfully, everyone in the band capably executed their assigned roles. While louder and a little rawer than their albums, Rogue Wave’s live-sound differs only slightly from their recorded work. This might be a function of their songs’ tendency toward harmony and melody over rhythm and musical acrobatics. I personally wouldn’t have objected to a louder mix, but counting the pairs of ear-plugs among the audience’s oxford-wearing members, the prevalence of this preference was questionable.

About half of the songs played on Monday were off their new album Permalight, available March 2. The new songs share the same layered, major-key make-up of the band’s previous works. Two new songs — ”We Will Make a Song Destroy” and “Sleepwalker” — seem to experiment with slightly heavier bass lines, and the remaining new songs seemed more electric than the songs off their earlier albums. The rest of the show was devoted to the more popular songs from their catalog, including “Like I Needed,” “Bird On a Wire,” and the full-sounding “Harmonium.”

Talkative and funny, lead singer Zach Rogue frequently chatted with the audience over the course of the evening, carrying on several prolonged conversations, from likening his rock career to his bar-mitzah, to discussing his inability to successfully pursue women in high school. (Don’t feel too bad; there were several vociferous offers made from women in the audience to assuage this traumatic pain.) In addition to frequent crowd polls, Rogue made an impassioned appeal on behalf of the band’s drummer for the National Kidney Foundation, citing them as responsible for their drummer’s life.

Despite having little in common sonically with Elliott Smith or Brendan Benson, Rogue Wave songs possess a “singer/songwriter” quality uncommon to most rock groups. Possibly explained by Rogue’s emotive vocal style, I believe that the reason is different: Rogue Wave songs lack the affected artifice in which other similar-sounding bands bathe. Almost all Rogue Wave songs take their title from their central refrain and address biographical events. Nerdy in more ways than one, their lyrics include references to both classical literature and Star Wars (specifically, the lyrics from “Like I needed” that twice repeat “not the droids you are looking for”). The personal content mixed with straightforward song constructions and a dearth of technical hubris make their songs sound honest and empathetic. To me, no longer a nerdy high school student solely because of matriculation, the lyrics are inclusive and kind. The personal connection that listeners form with Rogue Wave’s music clearly explains the diversity of the crowd.

While not propelling the music industry forward with innovation or biting the heads of quivering animals to make news, Rogue Wave is nevertheless a band that has captured its audience and found its stride. Rogue promised to return in September. Try them out; maybe they will speak to your awkward high school phase too.