Last Friday, the South Street Seaport held another free concert as part of the River To River Festival, bringing free music to outdoor venues around the city every summer. Sadly, the weather wasn't so accommodating for concert-goers. High humidity and grey skies followed afternoon showers and left a sweaty, uncomfortable crowd shuffling impatiently in the sticky heat, waiting for openers Best Coast to hit them with a little California sunshine. As the band took the stage, frontwoman Bethany Cosantino shared her sympathy with the crowd, thanking them for putting up with the heat to see the show and adding, "We wouldn't have -- we wouldn't even come here to see Drake. And we really like him."
Judging from the sun-soaked sound of garage rockers Best Coast, you could probably take Cosantino literally in this instance. This California trio's tape is best heard popped into a car stereo sitting in L.A. beach traffic and the brilliant sunshine. But Cosantino and company did their best to share some sun with their songs, and once that set got off to a start, the humidity did seem to soften. The group's new drummer Ali Koehler, a former member of Brooklyn lo-fi act Vivian Girls, proved herself a worthy new asset, keeping the crowd moving with insistent beats. The band put together a set to keep the energy at a constant high, playing through all their earlier favorites like "Sun Was High (So Was I)", "Something In The Way", and "Make You Mine" - but using the set mainly to showcase the catchiest hits off their promising new LP Crazy For You, due out July 27 on Mexican Summer. The two singles already released in preparation for the album's release - "Boyfriend" and "When I'm With You" - drew the greatest cheers from the audience, but it might have been slow burner "I Want To" that was the most successful number of the night.
Unfortunately as is frequently the case at the Seaport, sound quality was inconsistent at the show. As a result, Best Coast's songs lacked the punch of their album versions. Headliners Free Energy, luckily enough, did not have this problem. Staying true to their namesake and raising the energy level, wild man drummer Nicholas Shuminsky pounded the first amp-shaking bass drum hit and guitarists Scott Wells and Geoff Bucknum strummed out crisp, loud chords into the eager crowd. Free Energy immediately kicked into fifth gear with their set, and the band truly committed to delivering on the promise their live reputation holds for energetic, balls-to-the-walls performances. And they certainly delivered. Frontman Paul Sprangers nearly leapt off the stage with enthusiasm, throwing fists into the air with every shout, not once taking a moment's breath.
Nevertheless, as engaging as the band were as performers, the music itself lacked originality. Drawing on the generic guitar rock styles of the 60s and 70s, Free Energy sounded like Cheap Trick or Steely Dan -- if they were fronted by someone like Anthony Keidis. As a result, the five-piece came off as a kind of glorified high school band, admittedly bringing that model to its greatest potential, but never quite able to move beyond it. Fans cheered loud for favorites like the ultra-poppy "Dream City", but casual attendees were happy to head out after a few songs and catch an earlier train.