The Rapture are one of the main acts at the epicenter of a new wave of new wave–inspired bands who, in the wake of the Strokes’ success, have been generating a major underground buzz for the past year — a scene that includes Radio 4, Interpol, Liars, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Thanks to the college-radio success of their “House of Jealous Lovers,” a dance-rock single mixed by the DFA production team (a duo who specialize in fusing funk swagger to angular, guitar-driven indie rock), the band’s full-length, which is due in May, is now eagerly awaited. And the Rapture’s 50-minute set a week ago Thursday downstairs at the Middle East was mostly devoted to giving fans a taste of what’s to come.
Post-punk, ’80s-style new wave is the band’s most obvious point of reference, but the Middle East set proved they’ve got more than one trick in their bag. The new songs in particular revealed an eclectic range of influences, from the swagger and strut of ’70s glam to the same brand of quirky intensity that Gang of Four and Wire brought to the underground in the wake of punk. Most striking, given the Rapture’s fondness for electronic sounds on 2001’s Out of the Races and onto the Tracks EP (Sub Pop), were the more organic, guitar-riff-dominated arrangements of the new material. And yet they didn’t jettison the art-damaged dance grooves and the thick, funky bass lines that are fundamental to their new-wave ¾sthetic. The bass on “Killing” was as low and heavy as a spoiler’s rumble, and the vocal exchange between guitarist Luke Jenner and bassist Matt Safer sounded more shouted street fight than harmony.
The title track of the Sub Pop EP, with its scratchy guitar hook and pulsing bass line, seemed to get the crowd moving a bit. But even “House of Jealous Lovers,” the band’s danciest track, came off as a raw rock number. And though the new “Open Up Your Heart” had the slow strummed intensity of a Ziggy Stardust space-age odyssey, they weren’t above delivering a couple of sure-fire crowd pleasers: a raucous cover of the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” and a thundering version of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part II,” which brought the high-energy set to a powerful close. The Rapture never did incite the crowd to a hip-shaking frenzy, but their spirited funk breakdowns had plenty of hands waving in the air up front and feet shuffling in place in back — the indie-rock version of an all-out disco party.