Last Friday at newly opened Seattle venue Barboza, the members of Imperial Teen strolled on stage looking like a million bucks, with sly grins and playful banter. It was the first Seattle performance by the Merge Records artists in over four years, and the crowd made it clear that it had been far too long. After a couple of hilarious starts and stops between songs and adjusting the stage lights to an acceptable mood, the band proceeded to power through cuts spanning all of their albums, including their excellent new LP, Feel the Sound.
While the band only played for an hour and change, not nearly enough time to run through all their hits (because, honestly, they only write solid gold), every single song was an exuberant power punch of their patented surf-pop-indie-doo-bubblegum-wop-whatever they do so well. The biggest surprise of the night was how pitch perfect Will Schwartz’s vocals sounded. His instantly recognizable voice has only grown stronger and more distinct with time as he croons, yelps, whoops, sighs and sings with a master’s precision. If you want further proof, check out his solo work in hey willpower, an R&B/electro take on the Imperial Teen sound. Guitarist Roddy Bottum played the straight-man to Schwartz’s irreverent stage presence, all while turning out some truly ferocious surf riffs. Lynn Truell is not so much a beast on the drums as a relentless machine pushing each songs tempo to fevered quickening. Bassist Jone Stebbins anchored it all with her sixteenth note-heavy playing and background vocals that were pleasantly high and clear. Stebbins also played the gloriously noisy lead guitar part on their biggest hit “Yoo Hoo”, which of course they played and of course it sounded better than ever.
The fact that a band as long-running as Imperial Teen (a topic the band made fun of on Friday night and explored on their last album, The Hair, The TV, The Baby and The Band) can still sound so current and utterly inimitable almost 20 years into their career is a testament to the strength of the collective songwriting chops. While the co-ed weirdos of Imperial Teen have never gotten the popular attention they’ve long deserved like some other less-deserving indie stalwarts, they proved last Friday night, with a crowd of mostly 30-somethings singing along to even the new jams, that sometimes just being the better band is reward enough.
Imperial Teen’s Feel The Sound is out now via Merge Records, the group announced on-stage that they’ll be returning to the Northwest this summer, performing at Seattle’s Wildrose Pride Block Party in June and Portland’s Queer Music Festival in July.