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Night of rock at The Roxy Theatre features California band dredg

By Alex Goodman

May 6, 2011 6:42 p.m.

There isn’t a lot of room for rock these days, but Wednesday night, The Roxy set aside four hours for the good old devil’s music. The headliner, the California quartet dredg, has for years made albums worthy of serious attention, but maybe it’s a good thing it’s never achieved stadium-sized popularity. The band’s songs, an unusual mixture between ironic and earnest, artful and catchy, are best played with some degree of intimacy intact.

Dredg is touring now in support of “Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy,” released on Tuesday. The music says the guys would like to be more accessible, although the album title says they’d prefer people laughed and moved on to something else. The cover shows a tattooed young woman wearing a white tank top and a creepy, wide-smiling clown mask; on the way into the show Wednesday night, the audience received masks of their own, attached to Popsicle sticks. But the band never mentioned them, forfeiting the opportunity for a truly strange “V for Vendetta” kind of moment.

Instead, dredg threw some tracks from “Chuckles” into a mix that drew heavily from the band’s previous two albums, “The Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion” and “Catch Without Arms.” In between songs, singer Gavin Hayes bantered sarcastically with the audience from beneath a mop of Adrian Grenier hair. During those moments he sounded less than thrilled to be on stage ““ not angry, just cynical and slightly depressed. But then Dino Campanella would cut him off with the opening drum pattern of the next song, and Hayes would launch full-force into his performance. He sounded every bit as good as he does on the albums, plus some very sincere-looking theatrics when the choruses took turns for the epic.

Campanella, meanwhile, drove the band with the militaristic force of armor-piercing rounds. Wearing a muscle tee for good reason, he broke a drumstick every two or three songs and each time tossed it aside and grabbed a new one without missing a beat. It’s not apparent from the albums how powerful a drummer Campanella is, nor how robotically, almost frighteningly precise he is.

Those qualities created an intriguing tension with the songs themselves, which are not particularly heavy or intense. Mark Engles’ guitar playing is angular and somewhat atmospheric, rather than brash and loud, and Hayes sings in an upper-register, rock-operatic style that borrows the emotive intentions of emo and banishes the whine and the self-deprecation.

Married to Campanella’s relentless energy, dredg provided an exhilarating cap to the evening. The Rhode Island band The Dear Hunter, not to be confused with Deerhunter, set the stage admirably, playing with dynamism and a strong sense of drama.

The Dear Hunter followed Balance and Composure, a Pennsylvania-based emo band that seemed to be struggling to regain the second half of its name. The bitter, almost confrontational vibe of its set was a stark contrast from the opener, the Trophy Fire, which played a half hour of solid, feel-good rock. At the end of the night, that band’s singer, Ben Flanagan, returned to the stage to play rhythm guitar with dredg, a fitting moment of camaraderie from a group of guys who still believe in rock.

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Alex Goodman
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