Upstaging the band you support isn't easy, but it comes naturally for Cleveland quintet Living Stereo. Taking to the stage with a brief instrumental that sounds like one of the Who's outtakes, the band does everything short of swinging from the rafters to get the audience's attention. Bubbling with a generous dose of volatile energy for spice, it's a reminder of what shows were like before shoegazing hipsters took over.
While it's a tight, talented ensemble, there's no question that Living Stereo's star is lead singer-keyboardist Brandon Abate. Bouncing, dancing, and occasionally writhing, Abate is more electric than his bandmates' instruments, stalking the stage like a bizarre hybrid of Johnny Rotten and Steven Tyler. It's an impossible combination, but Abate's refreshing showmanship and well-placed humor ties it together in one frenetic package.
The action starts as he leans forward, grips the microphone stand, and gives an eerie portrayal of Rotten's iconic stare, then breaks the gaze to pester his bassist. When a guitar amp malfunctions, Abate leads the band through its signature song, "Stop Now," before giving the equipment a smack and telling the crowd, "That's why they make me sing -- I can't fix things!"
The rest of the band -- guitarists Brent Ferguson and Don Depew, bassist Jeff Deasy, and drummer Brian Moon -- just tries to keep up. Not only do they match Abate's pace; they also display a broad range of musical influences. With shades of the Jam, the Who, and Iggy and the Stooges woven through its set, Living Stereo harks back to the pre-grunge, pre-hair-metal days of rock and roll, landing somewhere between the ultimate garage band and '60s mods on speed.
It all reaches critical mass with "Ready to Move." Abate leads a brief dance tutorial before launching into the song, singing, playing, and shimmying with gleeful abandon. By the time the set ends with a punk-tinged number, Living Stereo has packed almost 15 years' worth of sounds into 30 minutes.
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