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Story and photos by Tony BonyataAs soon as The Apples in Stereo kicked off their set last Monday night at High Noon Saloon the indie rock sextet's blindingly sunny pop was in serious jeopardy of getting rained-out by technical difficulties to frontman Robert Schneider's guitar. As the band pummeled through "Can't You Feel It?," the opening track from their brilliant new release New Magnetic Wonder, Schneider vultured down over the multitude of effects pedals as he nervously fidgeted with the cable connections. This carried on for a couple of numbers until the band loosened the tension by breaking into an impromptu ditty aptly entitled "Faulty Wires," which lyrically searched for the cause of the problem.
And it was exactly this type of off-the-cuff, lighthearted fun from the band that helped dissipate any impending clouds. Schneider, at that point, located the problem and the band made up for loss time by tearing through a ferocious 90-minute set of sweet power pop that dizzied the packed crowd with all the intensity of a post-Trick-or-Treat sugar buzz. The band ran through material from all of their albums - sans their '95 debut Fun Trick Noisemaker - but relied most heavily upon New Magnetic Wonder, including no-nonsense performances of the beautiful "7 Stars," the sing-song "Sun Is Out," along with the insanely snappy pop of "Energy" and "Play Tough."
On the surface, with balding pate, runaway whiskers and striped Frankie Avalon beach sweater, Schneider looked like anything but a rock star, that is until he opened his mouth to deliver the seemingly perfect vocal icing to his many pop confections. From the unabashed Lennon-esque drawl that haunted the psychedelic swirl of "Strawberryfire" to the revved-up garage rock delivery of "Do You Understand" (from their 2000 release The Discovery of a World Inside of the Moone) this odd and lovable musician proved to not only possess the musical and vocal chops of a great frontman, but his passionate, yet somewhat homespun onstage demeanor was also every bit as compelling.
On record The Apples in Stereo utilize studio wizardry much in the same way Brian Wilson, George Martin and ELO's Jeff Lynne have in the past - none of their albums more so than their latest release. On stage, however, the band stripped away the whirling dervish of colorful effects in favor of a decidedly more straightforward rock performance; one that successfully mixed a bit of garage rock slop with a slight pinch of punk and a healthy dollop of double-fisted power pop. Beautiful harmonies and keys helped flesh out the many well-crafted numbers and by the end of the evening opening act Casper & the Cookies joined The Apples onstage for a rousing group performance that hearkened back to the positive communal vibe of when The Beatles were joined onstage by dozens of harmonizing fans for their 1968 performance of "Hey Jude" on The Frost Programme - a performance where host David Frost would introduce the Fab Four as "the greatest tea-room orchestra in the world."
Judging from this similar positive vibe and onstage magic last week in Madison, The Apples in Stereo definitely proved themselves as the second greatest tea-room orchestra in the world.
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