Live Review: We Were Promised Jetpacks with Bear Hands and Royal Bangs, Black Cat, Washington DC – 27th October 2011

By on Monday, 31st October 2011 at 2:00 pm

Scottish band We Were Promised Jetpacks have played in DC twice before, but this was their largest headlining show to date. Along with them were two bands they were very familiar with – bands they’ve toured with before, but on the other side of the country: Bear Hands from New York and Royal Bangs from Texas. I thought they were unusual choices, given that both of these bands play with keyboards and synths, whereas We Were Promised Jetpacks has the basic rock ‘n’ roll line-up of guitars, bass, and drums. The Jetpacks, known for their loud and rowdy shows, released their second album, ‘In the Pit of the Stomach’, at the start of October on Fat Cat, and this North American tour was the first time they’ve played the new material stateside. (You can read John’s review of the new album here.)

Bear Hands played first. (You can read guitarist Dylan Rau’s answers to our Quickfire Questions here.) It has been 3 years since I heard them on Lammo’s radio programme but I had not had a chance to see them live yet. Surprisingly (for a Black Cat show anyway), they started at their appointed set time of 8:30. Bear Hands is an indie band that I’d best describe as a mix of MGMT (psych rock with wiggly guitars) and Friendly Fires (tropicalia with maracas and lots of drums), just slightly less dancey and maybe a bit more headbang-y? There was one fan there that was an obvious fan of all three bands; he knew all the songs and shouted “I fucking love you!” and “you’re fucking awesome!” at regular intervals throughout all three bands’ performances. Their last song was ‘What a Drag’, the single from 2008 that I’m sure you’ve heard by now. “Long nails… “ wailed *name of lead singer*, leading all the diehard Bear Hands fans down the front to move and groove to their rhythms; it was a great end to an all too short set.


In general, the genre “noise rock” scares me: it conjures up long-haired indie kids that don’t play in tune. Royal Bangs, then, were a surprising exception to the rule. I have been wracking my brain trying to think of how to describe their sound. For starters though, let me begin with something unrelated to their sound, they’re four beardy guys that wear plaid. Thankfully, they sound nothing like Kings of Leon. When they’ve got the keyboards out, they sound like Procol Harum, or maybe Billy Joel if he was cooler. But a couple of their ‘rocking like we just don’t care’ kind of numbers reminded me a bit of Led Zeppelin, particularly the way lead singer screamed his head off. Their drummer Chris Rusk gets the gold star for the hardest working musician of the night; he attacked his drum kit with ferocity, yet the way he was smiling as he did it, you just know he was having the time of his life.

The almost full Black Cat floor waited in anticipation for their heroes We Were Promised Jetpacks. As should probably be expected, songs from their 2008 debut ‘These Four Walls’ received a raucous reception, with a loud roar as the first guitar notes of ‘Keep Warm’, ‘Roll Up Your Sleeves’ (video below) and ‘These Four Walls’ were played. This band has toured a lot since the first time I saw them open on a Fat Cat North American tour of 2009 featuring the coheadlining and relative Fat Cat elders Brakes and the Twilight Sad, but the Jetpacks show no sign of compromising on or apologising for their loudness. While marked maturity is not evident on all of ‘In the Pit of the Stomach’, the mostly lyricless ‘Act on Impulse’ was a punishing wall of sound that really has to be seen and heard in person to be believed.


Perhaps it’s because I hadn’t seen a gig at the Cat since April (nearly 7 months prior for the Pains of Being Pure at Heart) but I forgot how great it was to be mere metres away from a guy really going for it on his guitar. Now that I play bass, I was in complete awe watching Sean Smith. The first time I bought guitar picks, I asked which thickness I should get. The bloke at the counter says, “well, it depends on how you plan on attacking”. ‘Attacking’ is exactly what Smith and guitarist Michael Palmer did all night: their motto appeared to be play it fast, play it loud, and play it with feeling.

Highlights of the night included the new single ‘Medicine’ (watch the Video of the Moment here) and ‘Ships’. ‘Pear Tree’, with the lyrics you be the lighthouse / and I’ll be the road…” and other you/me comparisons, was unexpected Scottish soul. Maybe this is an indication of future direction”? Their closing song, ‘Thunder and Lightning‘, was a quiet (for the Jetpacks) and introspective way to end the night.

After the cut: WWPJ set list and more photos.

Bear Hands Photos:

Royal Bangs Photos:

We Were Promised Jetpacks Set List:
Circles and Squares
Quiet Little Voices
Picture of Health
Roll Up Your Sleeves
Keeping Warm
Dirt and Gravel
This is My House, This is My Home
Boy in the Backseat
Sore Thumb
Human Error
Ship with Holes Will Sink
Pear Tree
It’s Thunder and It’s Lightning

We Were Promised Jetpacks Photos:

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