Sensory Overload: The Big Sweet’s streamlined classicist guitar pop is hard to find

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From the April 18, 2013 edition

If Teenage Fanclub had actually been teenagers, if the guys in Girls were closer to boys, they might sound a little like The Big Sweet, the band of college freshmen that played Rumba Cafe last Sunday evening.

The prodigious quartet first pooled their talents in Canton at the age of 13, writing streamlined classicist guitar pop on days off between Little League games. Now that three of them are enrolled at OU and one at Ohio State, The Big Sweet is at an age when playing songs you wrote when you were 13 doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. And when the song is as lively and elemental as that one, why not?

This isn’t the kind of youth that shines brightly from FIDLAR’s raunchy, rowdy skate punk, but it also isn’t amateurish or clumsy. The Big Sweet plays carefully assembled, expertly arranged guitar pop the likes of which is supposed to be dead among their generation.

It was a little too precious at times Sunday. When they trotted out a closing Duran Duran cover, I was reminded of many poorly attended concerts in college dive bars, sometimes ones when I was on stage. (I had an Athens/Columbus combo of my own years ago; we never came close to the precision or the unity of purpose The Big Sweet exhibited Sunday.)

But the level of craftsmanship more than compensated for the cuteness. This band writes deceptively simple songs — Apple simple, not stupid simple. Every instrument had its shining moment, from jangly arpeggios to rolling toms to swoon-inducing microKORG manipulations.

The sore spot was, as it tends to be in bands of all ages, the lack of a legitimate singer. The problem wasn’t the melodies nor the harmonies, just the actual voices, which strained to stay in tune. It’s an easy problem to fix: Hire some golden-voiced heartthrob, let the current frontman recede to string-pulling band maestro status, take over the world.

World domination isn’t in the cards for rock bands these days, you say? Well, even if they can’t be big, these guys could certainly be sweet.