The crowd was thin Saturday night when the local rock act the Moderate took the stage at the Rock & Roll Hotel, but as wafts of tremolo-laced guitars and pulsating bass and drums filled the room, so did the concertgoers. Stuck with an early start time ahead of fellow local musicians Olivia Mancini and Justin Jones, the Moderate quickly made the most of the opportunity with ear-to-ear smiles and a raw collection of songs that burst with energy and life.
The recent addition of saxophonist and guitarist Ian Burke allowed the band to fully flesh out some of its best melodies, including on “Chapel Hill” and “Rock and Roll,” where Burke’s saxophone mimicked Jim Dempsey’s lead guitar line. While the sax may carry associations with more progressive-rock groups such as King Crimson, Burke’s play rendered these two Dempsey originals near perfect without losing any of the group’s signature sound.
The Moderate has great potential, and on Saturday each band member showed that it’s capable of reaching it. Perhaps most compelling was the work of drummer Drew Marks, whose extended breakdowns on “Ex-Lovers, Enemies” and swinging rhythm on “Your Favorite Too” simultaneously gave the band a loose and heavy sound while keeping every riff and chord change tight and on beat. Bassist Mike Maloney, who also sings backup vocals, sang the night’s two covers: “Time Trap” by Built to Spill and “Sideshow by the Seashore” by Luna. The songs are interesting picks because they’re not crowd-pleasing sing-alongs. In fact, they’re barely recognizable. The songs work instead to further showcase the band’s dynamic sound, with Maloney comfortably taking over the lead onstage and Dempsey stepping back to dive into the songs’ layered and intricate guitar riffs.
The Moderate saved the best for last with “Lost, Boy,” the catchiest track off last summer’s AM/FM. While the chorus is repeated only a few times and at one point separated by a two-minute guitar solo—with Dempsey employing a bit of an Angus Young-like hop—each word was sung with the utmost care and given the space needed to resonate in the audience’s ears. The band can make a racket, but it also knows how to make it stick.