Brad and Pond @ The Galaxy
St. Louis, Missouri

The groove and verve, the tenderness and ferocity: It's honest arena lounge and heartfelt basement histrionics. It's a powerful live experience and makes one truly believe Brad's sincerity.

The band sucks its influences dry and brings sweat and tears to its listeners by taking the best of 70s easy-listening and the heaviest of 70s rock, tempering it with sweet funk and high fusion.

With 1993's “Shame” album, Brad changed the pace and the face of Seattle's petrifying scene. Nobody noticed it at the time.

But last Friday Brad beat down the fist-pumpers and Bic-flickers in the Galaxy crowd with noteperfect sonic authority, proving that the band was more soul than retro vibe or cliched rock posturing.

The opening song, “Secret Girl,” was a summertime FM jam. “Lift,” also from the new “Interiors” album, slid into a good Northwest groove full of snow, dreams and booze. “Buttercup,” from “Shame,” was beautiful.

“With Yo' Heart (Not Yo' Hands)“ was heavy highlight. The song was one of Malfunkshun's contributions to the influential “Deep Six” compilation from 1986.

Brad drummer Regan Hagar played in Malfunkshun with the now deceased Andrew Wood, later of Mother Love Bone, of which Brad guitarist Stone Gossard was a member before the platinum Pearl Jam thing happened.

If that seems a bit confusing, consider this: Brad vocalist/pianist Shawn Smith is half of Pigeonhed, most of Brad's lineup are also members of Satchel — although while on tour Matt Brown from 3 lb. Thrill is handling additional guitar and keyboard duties. Mike Berg plays in Satchel but not in Brad, unless regular bassist Jeremy Toback is busy touring solo.

The point is, that while the incestuous nature of many Washington bands seems fractured, Brad's performances unnaturally perfect. Without being stiff, the band sounds as together onstage as on record.

The crowd responded. Chunks of amourous, amateur slammers fell in the typically Arctic temperature of the Galaxy. Stage divers bumped Smith's mic several times but the band handled the rudeness well, playing “Screen” and “Sweet Al George” without missing a beat.

Later, Smith walked out alone for an encore, sat at his pink boa-covered electric piano, and launched into Prince's “Purple Rain.” It was pretty incredible until more stage divers attacked. Sorry, kiddies: Just settle down and dig it during a solo piano performance. Smith started over and medleyed into the emotional “Suffering,” from Satchel's 1994 album “EDC.”

Smith belted out the line, “So put on your old fur coat/It's 1973” with a gravelly purr, like a goateed Louis Armstrong. It's a great line that the Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli gracefully altered in “Summer's Kiss,” from 1996's “Black Love.” Incidentally, Smith and Dulli are working together as the Twilite Singers.

The band came back out and when Gossard switched to bass and Berg sat at the piano and Smith sang, “Hey, kids/Shake it loose together,” things got surreal, things got serious and things got 70s.

It would be hard to imagine another performer putting as much into Elton John's “Bennie and the Jets” with such a lack of irony. Smith's falsetto is practiced but natural; his presence is commanding but accomodating. He's got rock star in him and he wears it well.

Opening band Pond's goofy chic is contagious and the Portland boys are engaging songwriters. One of the smarter guitar bands around, Pond divides its attentions between the serious and the silly.

Pond is every bit as sonic as Brad; unfortunately, its sound was rough without sheer volume to deliver it (the band played through its amps alone). Pond performed songs from all three of its albums, including the symphonic “Twins” and “My Dog Is an Astronaut, Though” (a sentimental ode to the Soviet space dog Laika).

It was nice to see a major-label band such as Brad give the opening slot to the good group Pond, who may have sold only 12 records but writes wonderful songs.

By The Billy Keaggy | Originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 1997i am