Live Review: The Temper Trap, Penguin Prison at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom (3/28)

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It’s a bold move touring new material from an album—and a sophomore one at that, at risk of the shall-not-be-named slump—which won’t be released for another two months, but Australia’s The Temper Trap has never been one to hold back. Even if Dougy Mandagi’s falsetto wasn’t coupled with fist-pumping arrangements, lifts meant to be filled with the screams of adoring fans, or this amazing video, it would still evoke the instinctual heart clutch familiar to anyone who’s ever sung along to “More Than a Feeling”. The undeniable organ/handclap combination beginning “Love Lost” and “Sweet Disposition”’s U2 fingerpicking sound is practically pre-programmed in Max Martin’s secret indie studio somewhere.

Against juggernauts like those, I feared The Temper Trap’s set list of mostly unreleased songs—especially in the somewhat unflattering acoustics of the Bowery Ballroom, which tend to swallow textural differences in the mix—wouldn’t hold up. But last night, The Temper Trap demonstrated that their ability to produce borderline guilty pleasures remains unparalleled.

They had a hard act to follow in Penguin Prison, a New York-based quartet that follows the electro-funk footsteps of acts like Chromeo and The Human League. Chris Glover, who records solo but performs as a vocalist and guitarist with a full band, only waited one song before climbing offstage into the audience. It was refreshing seeing him bop around without the usual mic cord handler at first, even though one eventually emerged, giving two tattooed thumbs up when Glover was returned to his rightful place onstage.

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Even though their frontman stumbled and slurred his speech, possibly suggesting some degree of inebriation, Penguin Prison brought their A-game opening for The Temper Trap. Glover moved fluidly between singing, playing his guitar backwards and over his shoulder, and smashing the toms for a few songs. The addition of a tight live band fleshed out the bounce behind tracks like “Funny Thing” and closer “Multi-Millionaire”.

The Temper Trap emerged with some degree of fanfare, but I wasn’t taken with the two new songs that opened their set. “Repeater” was unremarkable, and “Need Your Love” featured awkward shredding that sounded like Ratatat if they played with cheap synths in the ‘80s instead of the aughts. It wasn’t until The Temper Trap’s first released single, “Rabbit Hole”, kicked into explosive palm-muting after building for two-thirds of the song that I thought, “Oh, yes.” As soon as it ended, I wondered if (and, to my lasting regret, decided) it would be totally uncool to request it again.

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Fortunately, the rest of the set kept building off that song’s momentum, aided by bassist Jonathon Ahern’s emphatically expressed bass lines. The band tore it up for the last minute of “Science of Fear”, hair hanging and doubled over their instruments as strobe lights swept the audience. It was epic, until it was “Sweet Disposition”. The Temper Trap didn’t even start with the telltale guitars: They built layers of texture before launching into the song’s true beginning, at which point the audience promptly lost its collective mind. Shortly after, however, the band inched into an encore, during which most people started leaving. Even though The Temper Trap said they don’t want to get pegged as the “Sweet Disposition” band, and even though their new songs show the potential for at least one of them to be the new “Sweet Disposition”, at that moment, it looked like they might be out of luck.

Photography by Harley Brown.

Penguin Prison Setlist:
Golden Train
Fair Warning
Something I’m Not
Funny Thing
Don’t Fuck With My Money
The Worse It Gets
Multimillionaire

The Temper Trap Setlist:
Repeater
Need Your Love
Love Lost
Happiness
Rabbit Hole
The Sea
Trembling Hands
I’m Gonna Wait
Dreams
Science of Fear
Sweet Disposition
Encore:
Resurrection
Drum Song

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