Harlem wasted no time after sauntering onto Siren's Stillwell Stage one minute before 5:30--they grabbed their instruments, belched out a few test-riffs, and plunged into their hit, "Friendly Ghost."
The song detonates with Michael Coomer's rolling drum pattern before Curtis O'Mara whines: "I live in a graveyard / I wanna go out but it's too hard," as the guitars take effect. It's infectiously catchy and head-boppy--a standard, fast-paced garage rocker. And although it's an unexplained tribute to Casper the Friendly Ghost, this song pretty much sums up everything you need to know about this band.
Perhaps even the title, "Friendly Ghost," would be more appropriate as this band's name. I say this because Harlem's music sounds like a vague, second-rate shadow of the real deal. But there's also that word "friendly" in there, and Harlem's music is certainly friendly enough for no one to really mind an unoriginal collage of awesome indie rock and rockabilly tricks spanning the last half decade.
To be fair, Harlem doesn't pretend to be anything that they're not. Coomer and O'Mara alternate duties between guitar/lead vocals and drum/backing vocals, depending on which one of them wrote the song. Sure, I know it's part of the genre, but Harlem's youthful rowdiness, lyrical simplicity and rough delivery seem like they could have (and should have) come from a bunch of teenage rock fans in a basement--not a couple of smirky grown men.
To be honest, and if you can't already tell, Harlem's performance at Siren disappointed me. I came to the show expecting an all-about-having-fun, upbeat, exciting band, but instead witnessed two guys who seemed bored and unhappy to be there, making jokes to each other over background noise and giving off a general vibe of complacency. The touring bassist, whose name I can't even find online, seemed to be the only one onstage who actually wanted to be there. I mean, it has always been acceptable to act like a rock asshole onstage, but as a general guideline: Have songs good enough to keep people interested in you before blowing them off with your smug personality.
Harlem is just a couple of dudes who can bang out a bunch of hooky songs. While it's hard to imagine them as the next big thing, they've certainly spat the right notes and snarled the proper attitudes in their debut. Their music is damn catchy, and immediately likable, because it sounds immediately familiar and, well, that's always nice.