Whiners learn to smile

What do you get when you cross pop sensibility with a heavy dose of Sunny Day Real Estate and oceanic good vibrations? You get the Pale of Bellingham, Wash., who graced the new and improved Meow Meow last Sunday, along with western-shirted singer-songwriter Paper Airlines and local favorite Rocky Votolato. Paper Airlines warmed up the crowd that was probably big by Meow Meow standards, but looked spare in the spacious new digs.

Airlines is a singer-songwriter who rings strongly of earlier Bright Eyes, his voice cracking and wailing as he appears to be on the verge of tears at many points during the performance. He even looks like Conor Oberst 퀌� same hairdo, same style of dress, same instrument setup. That퀌_s not to say he was bad, though. Paper Airlines conveyed a lot of genuine emotion and backed it up with spare, mournful guitar in all the right places. He does play guitar more than a little like Oberst ����

Paper Airlines were followed by four-piece The Pale, who bring to mind lazy summer days filled with Beach Boys-esque harmonies, keyboards laden with pop optimism and hooky, rolling guitars that melt into the rich vocals in a way that sets them apart from the standard emo-influenced fare. Their affinity for Death Cab for Cutie is apparent, but these individuals seem to have weathered a little less heartbreak in their time, (or just dealt with it better). As a result, their music has a certain innocence and warmth that is uncommon among their peers.

Vocalist Gabe Archer migrated from guitar to Rhodes keyboard, moving his spirited words and fast fingers back and forth to create a sonic fabric that enveloped the audience. The Pale퀌_s third album, Gravity Gets Things Done, was released in 2002 by SideCho records and features 12 tracks of layered pop intertwined with a touch of dissonance and velvety melodies.

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When their set drew to a close, the stage was occupied by the Limbeck Band. As they began playing, it was as if sunshine beamed from the pickups of their Telecasters and good times rode in on a Kiss riff and were washed along the highway by a wave of Big Star. Honest, unpretentious, free and insanely hooky, Limbeck heated up the frigid expanse of the Meow Meow, and even threw in a Dylan cover for good measure.

These Californians have matured a lot on their latest release, the optimistic Hi, Everything퀌_s Great, which grants escape from the sappy over-emotionalism and uninspired, unoriginal musicianship that seems to plague so many bands. This is a band that you would be advised to watch, even if you are a jaded music snob who would never believe that they could like music so undeniably happy. In fact, The Limbeck Band made the Meow Meow퀌_s wintry downstairs expanse (yeah, they have an upstairs now ���� pretty cool) seem as if it had been caressed by a warm summer breeze. And if you feel like checking them out, you can listen to Hi, Everything퀌_s Great in its entirety at their website, limbeck.net. So watch for them, and for The Pale as well. These bands have talent and potential, and I wouldn퀌_t be surprised if their names start becoming a little more familiar in the future.