Much has changed since the last time NE-HI graced the stage of the Middle East Upstairs this past March. For one, their album Offers, a one-month old babe at the time of their last tour, has since fully matured and gained heavy traction. And as guitarist and vocalist Jason Balla had pointed out, it wasn’t raining ice chunks, making this mild September Boston night seem a little less apocalyptic. One constant, though, was the infectious level of energy that has become a staple of NE-HI’s live shows.
Before NE-HI’s electric return, local indie rock band The Owens opened with their dreamy, goth-infused sounds. Though their songs are decidedly melancholy, The Owens manage to transform the tracks live by giving them a heavier presentation—closer to a rock show that an indie bedroom band pity party. Tracks like “Judgement Day” off of their latest EP Redemption Day in addition to older songs warmed the slowly growing crowd for the night.
Following was NYC-based rock band Honduras. Previously a band that closely mimicked the sound of Arctic Monkeys with the wit of the Strokes, Honduras has begun to grow into their own with more distinctive and pleasantly unsettling rock tunes. Like the other two bands of the night, Honduras delivered an explosive, impassioned set, featuring tracks like their Spotify-popular “Paralyzed.”
Once NE-HI’s set rolled around, the Middle East had begun to pack out, though the crowd was considerably thinner this time around (likely owed to the fact that it was on a Sunday night as opposed to the last Boston show on a Friday). However, NE-HI did not skimp on energy. As usual, Balla slipped about the stage as if doing a chaotic ice dancing routine to the soundtrack of NE-HI’s sharp, catchy licks. “Stay Young,” one of the more popular songs, served as the opener for the night. The song naturally builds excited tension, which was echoed by the crowd before NE-HI transitioned into an unbridled take of “Haunted Summer.” The latter is from their s/t 2014 debut, as was “Since I’ve Been Thinking,” which followed.
“Since I’ve Been Thinking” in particular has become somewhat of a notable feature in NE-HI’s sets. The tune itself is lackluster when compared to the infectious hooks found in Offers, but when performed live, it takes on a whole new life. Balla seemingly jumps into the mic at the beginning of each line, while the rest of the band (composed of Mikey Wells, James Weir, and Alex Otake) harmonizes in terms of both sound and intensity.
Despite the old favorite being a highlight, NE-HI also showcased plenty of tracks from Offers including the title track, “Prove,” and “Sisters,” a particularly stand out track with just the right amount of angst and poppy hooks.
NE-HI stylistically isn’t groundbreaking (think Beach Fossils with Midwestern charm), but they set themselves apart dramatically with their sheer passion when playing live. It was evident is Balla’s moves, the band sweating a song and a half in, and their humble attitude—these Chicago boys aren’t above playing a half-empty club. But judging by the show NE-HI put on, perhaps the club was really actually half full.