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Boxbomb, Max Indian, Willie Breeding, Oso Optimo, Jake Troth
Friday, June 20
Cat’s Cradle

Annuals, Lonnie Walker
Saturday, June 21
The ArtsCenter

“Hey, come on in,” beckoned Jake Troth to a group of people standing by the Cat’s Cradle entrance Friday night. Troth played first on a five-band bill, pulling his solo acoustic pop off the stage and onto the venue’s empty concrete floor. Despite the $1 cover charge, Troth’s audience was sparse. Even those standing by the door didn’t accept his invitation. “I guess they didn’t bring a dollar,” he laughed.

Summer in a college town can be a tough time for the local economy, especially hard for young local bands that rely on the college-age crowd to fill out their shows, like those this past weekend at Cat’s Cradle and the ArtsCenter in Carrboro. But Troth made the best of it for his audience of five: His un-miked, street-performance set was quite effective, earning plenty of applause and even an impromptu call-and-answer sing-along with the audience. By the time Oso Optimo launched into its grit-pop set, a few more fans had wandered into the club. Fitting for the trio with the surprisingly big sound: Its dirty guitar tones and punchy bass lines give power to its post-punk pop, which sounds alternately like More Betterness-era No Use For A Name and Weezer riffs.

An empty floor greeted Brooklyn’s Willie Breeding, though, as it eased into a set of alternative folk rock songs. But the sound ostensibly appealed to a crew of slightly older-than-college-age fans outside, who eventually lined the seats around the stage. The toe-tapping, countrified rock was charming and immaculately performed. Its lack of energy, though in line with the audience, was out of place on the bill, especially when followed by Carrboro’s Max Indian. Playing energetic Southern indie rock with a generous dash of pop and Beatles song structures, Max Indian tells heavy stories through seemingly innocent hooks and ripping dual guitar solos.

The bands finally moved the arriving crowd of 20-somethings to its feet, just in time for headliners Boxbomb. Though the decent-sized crowd left a 20-foot gap between the stage and the front row, Boxbomb was totally engaging as it mixed old and new material. The band’s progressive, alt-rock style cuts with a powerful edgewailing wah pedal solos, insistent vocals, moments of serenity shot through with docile keyboard progressions and minimalist bass lines. The set was worth the wait and the late-arriving crowd.

After Friday’s frustrating start, I half expected another empty venue filled with great tunes Saturday night at The ArtsCenter for an evening split between Raleigh’s Annuals and Terpikshore labelmates Lonnie Walker. But I was delighted to find a sufficiently filled room upon arrival. The crowd grew throughout the night. What’s more, the young audience actually left its cushy seats and headed for the front of the stage as soon as the music started.

On record, Lonnie Walker’s slightly nasal vocal style sounds like a late Bob Dylan. Live, it was more Tom Petty, a Southern accent rearing its head within quirky lyrics. The sound was raw, like a fruit that isn’t quite ripe, bitter spots oddly complementing sweet, juicy bites. The fun mixture of folk, rock and Pacific Northwest-inspired indie rock was well-received, a welcomed appetizer for Annuals.

The sextet was greeted generously and returned the favor with an all-out performance that pulled both from 2006’s Be He Me and Wet Zoo, a split EP released in April. The band’s alt-pop brims with experimental tendencies, and its performance Saturday brimmed with confidence, the work of a young but experienced band coming into its own. And the audience wouldn’t let them leave without an encore, reaffirming my confidence in young Triangle rock and its possibilities.