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  AMERICAN DREAM w/ Plug Spark Sanjay and Chocolate Kiss  
  Atlanta, GA  
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When I'm writing reviews, I often end up talking about how my expectations of the show influence my overall enjoyment. Inevitably, it seems like if I'm really looking forward to seeing a band, I'll end the evening feeling vaguely dissatisfied and disappointed. Occasionally, though, I'll walk into a concert with low expectations and then be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Now why on Earth would have low expectations when American Dream, one of my favorite bands on the local Atlanta scene, is the headliner? Admittedly, I hadn't heard of Plug Spark Sanjay, the New Jersey based band in the middle of the bill. But that lack of knowledge doesn't usually stop me. And although the band name "Chocolate Kiss" gives me funk-induced nightmares, I'm willing to deal with just about anything for openers. No, the major cause of my hesitation on this evening was the venue: Lenny's.

You see, Lenny's used to be known as Dotties, back before she died. I used to see a lot of bands there. And back in the day, it was a dive. No let me rephrase that: it was a filthy, downtrodden dive in a really bad part of town. The women's bathroom never functioned. The floor was sticky. The beer was cheap. The sound was exceedingly loud and exceedingly echo-y. And the audience was ... well ... drunk. It wasn't my favorite place, and I wasn't too eager to return (even if it is under new management).

But I have to admit, the old place has cleaned up rather nicely (much like most of intown Atlanta). Yeah, it's still a converted doublewide with a view of the cemetery, but at least the bathroom is clean. Or at least that was my first impression when we arrived, probably halfway through Chocolate Kiss's set. And Chocolate Kiss wasn't what I had imagined, either. Their brand of punk may not be particularly original or particularly hard, but it was entertaining and solid. Sure the music in and of itself is less interesting than watching the musicians play, but it didn't drive me to the exits or get me to play the "Where did they rip this off from?" game. I'd like to see them again, if only so I can evaluate them better.

Afterwards, Plug Spark Sanjay took the stage. Apparently, they're normally a four piece, but on this evening they were down a drummer (due to family emergency), so they started off as a guitar/guitar/bass trio. From the first, I really liked them; they reminded me of slower, more melodic Plexi with swirls of interacting guitars held together by a rhythmic bass. Sure the songs towards the beginning of the set had this dark, almost melancholy edge, but that was probably more due to their drummer-less form than anything inherent in the music. In fact, for the last few songs, Plug Spark Sanjay had a guest drummer (whose name escapes me); this addition of rhythm filled out the band's sound and added a new urgency to the music, impressing me enough to buy their album so that I could actually figure out what they are supposed to sound like. Certainly, even in this form, I'd recommend their live shows; hopefully the full band can return to Atlanta at some point.

Finally, it was time for American dream. I haven't seen them in a while, and on this night, it was quite clear that they've been really busy over the last couple of months writing new songs and refining their sound. In fact, I think this set list was almost wholly different that the one they used the last time I saw them. And on this new material they truly sound more together -- with each instrument (including the cello and harp) holding its own in the structure and not just repeating the same riff as some other piece of the band. At the same time (and this isn't as contradictory as it may appear at first), American Dream sounded more like a rock band this time around. It may have been an effect of the sound mix, but it seemed like there was a new emphasis on the more normal instruments - guitar, bass, and drums - than on the other stuff. It sounded really good, but the music definitely had a more straight-forward feel than their previous sets.

All in all it was a good evening; all the bands were impressive and/or interesting. And all of them are acts I'd really like to see again.

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