“If this was the 90s, there’d be half as many people here,” said Blair Shehan to a thoroughly packed Knitting Factory. He was referencing the music that was being spun between bands, but there was a clear fondness in the room for the punk and post-punk made during the decade in question. The audience—mostly of an age to have seen The Jealous Sound on one of their early-00s tours, or even to have fond memories of Shehan’s previous band Knapsack—fit at times uncomfortably in the space, with some ticketholders opting to sit in the bar and listen to the set being piped through the speakers there. Whether standing in the crowded venue or watching from the other side of a glass wall, however, the audience was treated to a tight, cathartic set, performed by a band for which the “anthemic” tag seems quite appropriate.
Shehan’s songwriting is very much in the anguished loud-quiet-loud vein; as one friend of mine has commented, his songs generally fit the same template, but it’s a template he’s very good at. The Jealous Sound’s first EP and album sounded like a continuation of his work in Knapsack: a vocal style that sometimes manifested as a precisely controlled scream, occasionally intimate lyrical details, and relentlessly catchy melodies. (It’s a style not far removed from where the Wrens ended up with 2003’s The Meadowlands, in many ways.) After a long absence, the band just released a new album, A Gentle Reminder, from which much of the night’s set was drawn.
One exception was “Hope for Us,” the quietly optimistic opener of 2003’s Kill Them With Kindness, which made an early-show appearance to considerable applause. The newer songs were, not surprisingly, in a similar vein to the group’s earlier work — the presence of a few more vocal harmonies being the main stylistic shift. The earlier days of the band’s discography reappeared at the end of the set, with the steadily burning “Anxious Arms” closing things out, and a solo Shehan performance of “Turning Around” serving as the night’s encore.
It didn’t hurt the night’s positive mood that Shehan’s stage banter was pitched somewhere between enthusiastic and self-deprecating. “Did everyone here have a good Valentine’s Day?” he asked mid-set. Following the crowd’s response, he reacted with, “No? What the fuck!” And shortly thereafter, he introduced one number as “a sad bastard song.” And while The Jealous Sound’s set didn’t reinvent rock music, it did provide a fine primer into why heartbreakingly sad songs can still leave an audience feeling pretty good.