Panic Division’s mannerly, clean-cut demeanors and adorable haircuts make it difficult to imagine them truly getting down.
Onstage, the band wears expressions of utter concentration while Colton Holliday, the remaining original member, yells or wraps both hands around the microphone to sing intensely.
The show opens with “Big Day,” off the original band’s second full-length album, 2007’s Songs From the Glasshouse (The Militia Group). It’s missing the studio version’s delicate and swelling electronic intro, but cliché lyrics are its real problem: “The heart goes on and on/ Even after you’ve gone/ It goes on and on.”
Since Panic Division took a hiatus in 2008 and split with its label, the entire band, minus the singer, have been replaced with members of former El Paso band Cassetta: Joe Ramos on drums, Noe Carmona on guitar, and Michael Morin on bass. The audience contains both Panic Division and Cassetta fans, some shouting, “I love Cassetta,” “I love Noe” or “Hispanic Division.” The fans make a few jokes, but their strong admiration for the new Panic Division is evident in the crowd’s dancing and rhythmic nodding, their constant fixation on the stage,
“Shut up and Leap,” “ Melody Ave,” and “Easier,” from the band’s latest self-released and produced EP, 2009’s Sleepwalker, are typical Panic Division — steadfast and powerful beats, bright lead guitar, throbbing bass, and swelling ’80s pop rhythms tied together by Holliday’s vocal echoes — but they thankfully exhibit a lyrical growth away from the standard emo lines.
After every other song Holliday takes a swig from his beer and wipes the sweat from his forehead. He politely apologizes as he and Carmona retune their guitars.
“Pieces That Mattered,” off Songs From the Glasshouse, has a more contemporary pop quality, belying its upbeat tempo with melancholy lows. Holliday channels a romantic pain similar to Logic Will Break Your Heart-era Stills with lines like, “True love is something to overcome.”
New songs off their not fully recorded album — “Lifeline” and “Fireflies” — testify to the band’s new good-boy appearance; Holliday dedicates the latter to his sister. The new stuff indicates a gravitation toward an alternative-rock, perhaps post-hardcore sound, closer to Thursday than Joy Division.
Show closer “Easier” starts with an eerily synchronized tilt of guitars, as though the band is telepathically connected. The vocals melt into the guitar lead, but the drums and bass slowly subside to make room for Holliday’s conflicted cooing: “The fear is hanging over me/ It’s getting easier.” — Imelda Vergara