Sensory Overload: New Tooth

From the August 9, 2012 edition

I welcomed the ’90s revival with open arms, but as with any nostalgic pillaging ritual, eventually the novelty of hearing those long-dormant sounds wears off and you remember that no matter what the era, most bands are works in progress.

Based on “Say Ah,” the EP streaming on Bandcamp, New Tooth seems like an act to keep tabs on. The young Columbus trio knows how to piece together a rumbling rhythm, some jaunty guitar and bass melodies and a lung-busting hook then bash it out like it’s the only thing staving off the boredom of modern life. They are not geniuses, but they are their heroes’ competent pupils.

The trouble with their show last Thursday at Cafe Bourbon Street was the execution. Watching New Tooth was like driving a car on its last legs, just hoping everything would hold together long enough to get home. Sometimes when you wonder if a band might fall apart, it’s because they’re racing breathlessly ahead like a train threatening to run off the rails. This felt more like the product of laziness — musicians out of sync, voices out of tune, band out of practice.

That seems hard to believe considering how many shows New Tooth has been playing around the bar circuit lately, but trust me, as someone who spent my college years playing in a band that performed more than we rehearsed: Without proper prep, live shows become even more of a crapshoot. I have no doubt New Tooth has played transcendent shows; this just wasn’t one of them. And I have no idea whether they practice frequently or not, but I hope this isn’t what a finely-tuned version of the band sounds like.

They plucked inspiration from all over the Clinton era’s alternative nation — roof-blasting Sunny Day Real Estate wails, the muscular guitar jangle of early Built to Spill, gruff bluster befitting Archers of Loaf. Pop-punk loomed over everything. They even tried on a little slap bass straight out of “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.” It did not fit.

If this all sounds discouraging, that’s not my intention. There’s still hope for New Tooth, but for now, more time in the minors seems in order.