Last January, the Alarmists played a pair of shows at the Entry that were billed to be their last. In the aftermath of those shows, the band members became embroiled in a much-publicized drama that eventually saw the surprise reemergence of lead singer and guitarist Eric Lovold in June with a new lineup and a new album, The Overhead Left.
Returning to the Entry last Friday almost exactly one year on from those shows, the refashioned Alarmists put on an assured performance that left little doubt as to the health of the band or who has control over it. Dressed sharply in a gray sweater, collared shirt, and ripped jeans, Lovold commanded the stage with authority, striking up various nonchalant rock star poses as he played to a full house.
Yet the Alarmists’ performance wasn’t quite the triumph that it might at first appear to be. The music, while polished and nearly perfectly-executed, was equally flat and one-dimensional, all too often relying on a formulaic blend of influences from Britpop and Britt Daniels. In fact, opener the Arms Akimbo, with their loose, eclectic set, very nearly stole the show from the headliners.
Kicking things off with “You Want To,” the infectious single from their debut EP, the Arms Akimbo’s music tore through a variety of genres. Ranging from rockabilly to reggae to post-punk, the songs – which also included “The Kids Still Love Us” and “Giving Up for Good” from the EP – were an airy, bouncy mixture wrapped up in a slick power pop exterior. Bassist Nick Schaser, sporting scraggly facial hair and a white t-shirt, bit off his vocals with the snottiness of a young Elvis Costello and bantered playfully with the audience between songs.
The trio played a new song that featured some rolling drum work from Schaser’s brother, Ian Schaser, while guitarist Chris Dillon took up harmonica on a rollicking rendition of the Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better.” With the Stray Cats’ “I Won’t Stand in Your Way” also included, the set list was perhaps a little heavy on covers for being as short as it was, but the Arms Akimbo nonetheless proved engaging as an opening act.
When the Alarmists came out just past midnight they played purposefully, but once the initial thrill wore off the sheer volume of the playing couldn’t mask the stiffness of the music. Drummer Mark Schwandt certainly played with abandon, and keyboardist Joe Kuefler laid down a marching rhythm, but beneath the force of the their deliveries neither offered much beyond standard accompaniments. With the vocals weak in a loud mix and little variety in either the playing or the arrangements, it was often difficult to tell the songs apart as they began to blend together with one another.
It wasn’t until “New Romans” midway through the set that things really began to pick up. With its sing-along chorus and half-time buildup, this old favorite from the band’s debut A Detail of Soldiers lent the music a crucial dynamic edge that was missing previously and helped carry things through to the end of the night.
The rest of the songs hung on that energy, slowing down for “The Country” before plowing through to the finish with “Hired Gun” and an encore of “Soldados.” Especially compared to the gregariousness of the Arms Akimbo, the Alarmists’ show was insular, their methodical approach coming across a bit like the band was playing for its own entertainment as they gestured periodically to one another and relatively little to the audience.
While generally an entertaining show, what could have been a symbolic – and welcome – return to form for the Alarmists felt like a victory lap that rested a little too comfortably on past successes.