TVD Live: Sheer Mag at the Black Cat, 8/23

For all of the power and velocity of her screaming-mimi voice, Sheer Mag lead singer Tina Halladay can be awfully shy on stage.

Raging through the band’s headlining show Wednesday at the Black Cat in DC, she paused just once to talk, and then only to read off some info about how to aid the hundreds of protesters arrested during January’s inauguration and soon to go to trial. That brief message merged with the political underpinnings that emerge on the band’s recent full length LP, Need to Feel Your Love, starting with the bust-down-the-walls attack of their opening song, “Meet Me in the Street” and its anthemic chorus “Come on down and get in the mix / We get our kicks with bottles and bricks.”

There’s other sounds of resistance on the new work, which touches on disenfranchisement (“If you don’t give us the ballot, expect the bayonet”) and of an anti-Nazi warrior who was executed, “(Say Goodbye to) Sophie Scholl.” But what hits you at a Sheer Mag show is the overall sound—beneath Halladay’s peerless delivery are a rich array of time-honored riffs that have, since the last DC visit, broadened to include the sweet three-guitar attack.

An extra rhythm guitarist has been added to provide the basic riffs as Kyle Seely’s extends his tasty lead guitar toppings, wagging his head alongside bass playing brother Hart Seely to the joy of the music. In their shoulder length locks and mustaches, the siblings resemble a couple of dudes from Golden Earring. It’s that same kind of united rock precision that is their own musical golden ring. The extra guitarist frees lyricist Matt Palmer to move from guitar to keyboards and occasionally tambourine and other percussion.

There’s a punk attitude to Sheer Mag, but also metal’s no-frills drive. But the tinges of other vintage rock seep into the intros and soloing, bringing some surprise to their succinct hour-long set. Playing live, though, the band loses some of the R&B nuances and funkiness that is displayed on songs like the album’s title track, or the lightness of the riffs on “Pure Desire,” giving over to heavier riffs and velocity.

The growth of Sheer Mag over just a few years has been impressive in that they’ve done it on their own terms, with their own label, and without even the requisite 21st century boost of a band Facebook page. But they’ve also grown in talent, scope, and number of fans. So next time they’ll probably be back in theater-sized venues; and rocking arenas after that—all on their own terms.

By then, Halladay will have the confidence to address the audience between songs.

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