By Emily Votaw

CLEVELAND — The Grog Shop is debatably Cleveland’s most intimate venue, and there’s something to be said about pop-punk in close quarters.  Not that Silent Lions are necessarily pop-punk in nature, but the rest of the bands that made up the bill at the Grog Shop on Thursday, another snowy, sludgy night in Cleveland, most definitely were; and frontman Dean Tartaglia’s former incarnation as the leader of Mindfish (the premier pop-punk outfit in Athens, Ohio, for the past several years) must have taught him a thing or two about playing to kids in skinny jeans, tight band tees and Vans.

Tartaglia and Matt Klein are pretty mighty for being a two-man act, effectively waking up the relatively small gang of teens that had gathered around the stage for the prior act, Lakewood natives Mobley Hits Back.  The band kicked into their set, Tartaglia manhandling both a bass guitar and keyboard, and both Tartaglia and Klein attacking their instruments with ferocity similar to another famous Ohio rock duo, only a half hour outside of the Rubber City.  Aggression isn’t the only thing that the band has in common with The Black Keys; something about Tartaglia’s perfectly strained vocal style is reminiscent of Dan Auerbach’s.

“Never Gonna See You Again” started out the set, the opening track of the band’s last EP, “The Parliaments,” a pretty good representation of Silent Lion’s lo-fi/high-fi aesthetic.  The thing about the band is that they seem to fit in just fine with the other sorts of pop-punk acts that played at the Grog Shop Thursday night.  Something about inappropriate synth use separates them from the more refined sound that they could potentially possess.  Bits of “Never Gonna See You Again” are accomplished, the bleary-eyed rough-edged bluesy bits of chorus and wonderfully indecipherable vocals in general are very, very welcome on the night that all the other kids who loved Blink 182 in the early 2000s are playing with their bands in a space as small as the Grog Shop.

Soon the band jetted into “Stolen in the Heat of the Moment,” one of the catchiest tracks off of their latest release, “The Compartments.”  Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of the show was the band’s ability to sound so flawlessly like their recording, only allowing enough roughness into live renditions to lend the performance some much-needed grit.  At their best, Silent Lions sound like they are on the verge of becoming a Fat Possum act; a hope only tampered by overzealous synth samples.  “Stolen in the Heat of the Moment” has great potential, truly living up to the “Hall and Oates stoner rock” description that the band uses on their Facebook page — up until that fatal synth solo at the end of the song.  Initially seeing Tartaglia go at those synths was enough to change the otherwise offensive solo, but only for so long.

However, the set was engaging, and the petty criticism that can be offered isn’t much in the face of loud music played very well in a very small club.  Not that those imperfect samples aren’t troubling.

Because they are.  Very troubling.

“Terrible Days” is another track off Silent Lions’ last EP, and one that the band broke into after a couple of songs – it was perhaps the bluesiest song the band tackled Thursday night – but then there were those fake horn samples towards the middle of the song, an unforgivable sin when the band is as close to being legitimately good as Silent Lions.

The band ended their performance with “Lost My Time”, another song brought up by Tartaglia’s skillful bass doodling and Klein’s reserved drumming and brought down by overutilization of the loud-quiet-loud technique and those futuristic synth samples.  The song’s premise is great – a goofy testament to how a terrible drummer can screw up a performance, something that anyone who has seen enough local-sized live performances know is a very real and very terrifying possibility.

Tartaglia and Klein are a superior act.  They’re probably the most proficient, listenable band that played Thursday night.  But until they can be separated from acts with too-long names and over-involvement in the clichéd community that is pop-punk in 2014, Silent Lions will not have reached their potential.

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