The Ponys came charging out of Chicago last year with a whip-smart debut that made a splash in the still-’80s-obsessed indie waters—but only a splash. Though replete with Echo & the Bunnymen’s reverb melodrama, nervous Robert Smith nasal-passage pipes, and a Smiths sense of trickster charm, they’re entirely too messy, drunk, and enamored of name-checking ’60s icons like Phil Spector and the Creation to get lapped up by the leg-warmer set.
Take their opening slot for Bloc Party at the Bowery Ballroom a couple Fridays ago. Hyped to the gills, Bloc Party were basically more of that robot rhythm Brit wave that still doesn’t quite seem to be breaking. Though if Franz Ferdinand sans snark and songs are your bag, go for it. The Ponys—playing to an accordingly bemused crowd waiting for the headliner’s “hit”—churned strong through their set with vigorous suspicion.
By their Mercury Lounge show two nights later, the band was visibly pooped from a wild Saturday-night all-ages show in D.C. that involved a saucy after-party and singer Jered Gummere twisting his ankle. At the Merc, they limped into a moody instrumental, then into the slithery “We Shot the World” from their latest, Celebration Castle (In the Red), due out May 3. Nathan Jerde had that head-down, sweat-wet-by-the-second-song pose of a drummer ready to head home (this was the last show of the tour). They trotted out the same song list as at the Bowery show, offering only two tunes from last year’s quick classic. The fact that it was a much more appealing show than Friday’s could be chalked up to the inevitable truth that r ‘n’ r is always more effective in small, sweaty climates. But there was more.
Gummere’s strangled croon only benefited from end-of-tour cracks, since their tunes mainly concern fights and other struggles anyway. New guitarist Brian Case and Gummere run and gun at each other in a Velvet Coffeeground rush. But when the energy dipped, notes slipped, and Case could’ve said, “Fuck it,” he instead amped up fevered feedback shots. And Jerde only looked tired. He was smashing, in both the Brit and Yank ways.