CONCERT REVIEW: A concert with Friends

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First Posted: 1/27/2014

A Fire With Friends sound great on an album, but any listener would agree that the seven-piece indie rock group must be experienced live to truly appreciate the imaginative nuances of their work.

Drawing one of the biggest and most lively crowds at TwentyFiveEight Studios in Scranton yet, the band, supported by three openers, produced this experience on Saturday for the release of their third EP, “Ghost House,” performing a career-spanning concert that made the five years they’ve been together (and only about two in their current incarnation) seem like 10.

First up was We Were Templars, and despite a serious-sounding moniker, the group’s pop-infused rock was catchy and fun, featuring soaring yet edgy vocals from singer/guitarist Lisa Mansour, who played off co-vocalist Zach Graham well while clearly establishing her own voice in this refreshing new band.

Next was Shorthand, who picked up the pace with pop punk bursting at the seams with emotion, so much so that it almost knocked their singer down as he thrashed about. Shane was apologetic for his nervous stage banter, but their youthful hardcore enthusiasm was nothing to be ashamed of and could easily make them an underground favorite or future Warped Tour pick as they continue to grow – the choice is theirs.

Despite featuring vocals from A Fire With Friends’ Daniel Rosler, Esta Coda had its own identity, moving through alternative to post-punk to pop rock effortlessly. Co-vocalist Jay Preston’s distinct voice helped separate his delivery from Rosler’s, though both harmonized well and showed the range this group is capable of.

It didn’t take log for A Social State to unleash the pent-up energy in the room with a harder tone laced with the commanding clean vocals of Edward Cuozzo, shattered by his occasional angry screams. There’s mainstream rock appeal in the guitars and indie cred in the lyrics, and with songs titled “Aging Egomaniac,” “Kidnapped,” “Unlike You,” “Sellout,” and “Livid Sister,” it’s easy to see why crowd members began to jump around and make some noise right along with them.

What was particularly striking about each opening act was that they all shared members with the headliner with the exception of Shorthand, but at no point did it seem like the audience was being presented the same thing twice. The lineup was varied, yet a sonic cohesiveness formed throughout the evening. Each offered free music in the form of CDs and digital downloads, as if the lasting impression of their performances wasn’t enough.

A Fire With Friends began their set by establishing a moody atmosphere, a trick they’ve mastered by now, and kicked things off with a new song called “Awful Things,” which sounds just too pretty for what Rosler is describing. They jumped back an album for the rocking “Jesus Was a Jedi,” then back again to the very first EP for the simple head-bobbing of “Caliente.” The entirety of the 14-song set continued this blend of old and new material, and while each song represented different lineups, it all came together seamlessly with the help of some great sound by TwentyFiveEight Studios. This may be the first time that fans were able to actually hear Daniel King’s cello live over the six other instruments, and it was a treat to be able to experience the fullness of their songs.

Playing through most of “Ghost House,” including its danceable, largely instrumental title track, they ended the night with “Electric Chair Blues,” one of their strongest tracks to date from second album “Like Giants Sleeping in Basements,” and the soft embrace of “Picture You Picturing” from “Happily Haunted,” where it all started. It hasn’t been an easy ride for these young Scranton musicians, but it all seems to come together on the stage, each member drifting into a zone that cannot be seen by bystanders but can be felt in the soothing ambiance they craft with each note. It’s a powerful presence that has yet to envelop those outside of NEPA, but give it time. All they need is the right tour, and Saturday’s show was a fine place to start.