Pepper at House of Blues, 9/5/2013

Pepper House of Blues September 5, 2013

Sixteen years into their career, the members of Pepper still possess a youthful energy onstage.

Despite being in their mid-thirties, guitarist Kaleo Wassman, bassist Bret Bollinger and drummer Yesod Williams have the stage presence of spry teenagers. They sing songs of drunk women and sexual frustration with the swagger of boys who aren't even of drinking age yet, and they appear to have one hell of a time doing it. That is to say, they're a fun group to watch perform.

It's nearly impossible not to move one's body to the funky beats the Hawaiian-born, San Diego-based trio performs. Just two songs into their set Thursday night at House of Blues, the band was already a sweaty mess of rock and roll, as were a number of their fans, though a good amount of that dampness was surely spilled beer.

To an unfamiliar ear, Pepper's sound is clearly influenced, shaped even, by Sublime, to such a degree that some critics have accused them of being a carbon copy. But Pepper's lyrics aren't nearly as heavy. Their music as a whole comes across much more lighthearted, and the behavior of their fans proves as much. Next to the side bar, a group of friends alternated between line-dancing and the bump and grind while exchanging hugs and high-fives. Pretty much everyone in attendance was in good spirits.

As much as the crowd was enjoying the music though, the crowd wasn't altogether manageable. Nearly an hour into the set, the band left the stage, and Wassman reemerged alone, an acoustic guitar in hand. He sat down on a stool and began to softly strum the opening chords to an acoustic track, only to be drowned out by continuous chatter.

For the next song, Wassman was accompanied by his band mates for another acoustic ballad to an ex, in which Bollinger sang, "Now I'm just a shirt you sleep in." The audible bits sounded great, but the crowd was clearly more in the mood for upbeat, dance-friendly ska/reggae/dub music, unwilling to quiet down. Luckily, Pepper kept their cool and transitioned, unfazed, back into their more popular tracks.

Back on the road for the first time in five years, Pepper have just begun to tour in support of their brand new, self-titled album, their first studio album in five years. The eponymous release marks a new era for the group, one that's more accessible and polished while retaining an upbeat, boyish vibe. "FKARND," their latest single, meshed perfectly in between tracks like "Like Your Style" and "No Control."

It's clear that Pepper are taking the opportunity to reinvigorate their career seriously. They aren't FKNARND anymore.

Personal Bias: When "FKARND" was released, everyone I knew seemed to ask me, "Oh man, remember Pepper?" No, but that song is catchy as hell. Looking into their music, I liked what I heard.

Overheard in the Crowd:"So are those long shorts or short pants? Either way, they don't match your fedora."

Random Notebook Dump: I'd like to give a special shout out to Jenn, the young woman who regaled me with stories of Pepper concerts past, including one at which a mohawked 7-year-old was crowd surfing with his dad. Thanks for getting me hyped for the show.


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