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Robotboy (Friday, August 19th, 2005, Uptown Bar, Minneapolis)
Robotboy at the Uptown Bar - Photo by David de Young (click for larger image)

By David de Young

Alan Sparhawk’s latest side project, Retribution Gospel Choir opened up an evening of music Friday at the Uptown Bar with a powerhouse of a set that came on like a heavy metal spiritual, and left you feeling like you’d just sat through a sermon by a southern preacher, albeit one armed with a guitar who wasn’t afraid to use it. When the set was over, there was just one appropriate word: Amen.

If RGC’s opening set was a tough act to follow, Robotboy had no trouble doing so with their angst-ridden, melodic punk and a performance full of energy that really packed a punch, sometimes square in the gut.

Robotboys new 7-song EP And There Was No Future, recorded at the Terrarium with Jason Orris last November, is an inspired collection of songs full of remarkable passion. And what’s most interesting about that is that it stands out from the pile of CD’s that have crossed my desk in recent months in spite of the fact that at its heart it’s pretty much just a straight-ahead (if not tightly-wound and rocking) punk record in the spirit of Social Distortion or Wreckless Eric. It also incorporates a heavy dose of local flavor including elements of Soul Asylum or the Gear Daddies.

Friday night, Robotboy opened with “Didn’t Want it Anyway,” the EP’s driving opening track and a song that was licensed by Target Corporation for use on freestylelivin.com. The first half of the set consisted of the band playing straight through the songs of the disc in order. (It’s hard to believe the whole EP clocks in at just 16.5 minutes. The depth and layers of the songs will leave you with the impression you heard a lot more.)

The second song “I Can’t Remember” comes off like the best of British punk of the late 70’s, vocalist Dave Richardson’s voice breaking at times much like Paul Westerberg’s whiskey-soaked pleas on songs like “Unsatisfied” or “Answering Machine,” and there’s not the slightest hint of pretension -- the lack thereof being one of the best thing about the whole disc. When Richardson sings “I can’t remember and I don’t care” you sense genuine anguish, even if saying “I don’t care” with such intensity makes it seem an oxymoron. The calliope-like keyboard that makes its appearance on this song and pops up frequently thereafter may seem out of place, but it serves as a not-so-subtle reminder that this isn’t a run of the mill punk record of guitars, bass and drums.

“3 Minute Push”, a sort of heroin love story – “runnin through my veins / it’s a dirty shame / and nothin’s quite the same / until I see you” -- starts out with a primal drumbeat reminiscent of something Lori Barbero might have pounded out in the heyday of Babes in Toyland or more recently with her band Koala. At the end of the song, Richardson backed off the mic so fully with his body it was as if he’d just purged himself of something god-awful; the song’s electric punch forward was so forceful he might as well have been recoiling after firing a 44 into the audience.

Another of the set’s (and album’s) highlights included “Uninfected,” a song which sounds like the Gear Daddies re-interpreting U2’s “I Will Follow.”

And the set was only half done. The band filled out the remainder of the show with newer songs that left me in anticipation of the band’s next release, finally finishing off with an instrumental where the bass figured prominently and ended in a drum flourish.

You can buy Robotboy’s new album (and their first album Self-Destruct and Start Again) at http://www.newartistdirect.com. The band has also made all the songs from both albums available to preview on their website: http://www.robotboympls.com

The band's next show is Wednesday, August 31st at the Hexagon Bar as part of Transmission with Jake Rudh.

David de Young can be reached at editor[at]howwastheshow.com