Black Market Empire comes alive

The recorded tunes of Black Market Empire simply do not do the band justice. Before Saturday, I was familiar with the band only from its three MySpace tracks, which were decent if somewhat uninspired retro new wave that conjured up such '80s stalwarts as the Cure, Duran Duran and more obscure acts (is that a Fiat Lux influence?) without really bringing anything new to the mix. Not to say that they sound bad -- if anything, it's that the sound is a little too perfectly 1988, and let's face it, that ship (as much as I love it) sailed two decades ago ago. But that perception shifted about five minutes into their set.

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For one thing, the turnout was impressive, especially considering how many other shows were happening that night and throughout the weekend. It's hard to say just how much was strictly for Black Market Empire, since it was the second of four bands on the roster, but I definitely did not get the bored/disinterested "waiting for the headliner" vibe during their set. If anything, the area near the stage seemed more densely packed and crowd seemed both attentive and appreciative.

Crowd aside, this is a band -- much like one of its obvious influences, the Cure, who are a surprisingly excellent live band -- that simply takes things to another level live. All those shimmering keyboard pads and chiming guitars sounded fine live, and were bolstered by subtle dynamics that simply don't come across in the recordings. More importantly, the vocals' emotive urgency was simply much more believable live and it served to sell the angst-ridden melodies much, much better on stage than in a recorded setting. If these dudes can capture that magic on tape, I suspect there is an excellent new wave flashback album in them. Until then, I have to recommend that any fans of that classic sound make a point of catching the band live at your earliest convenience.

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