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It was a dance party at San Diego’s Soma as New York’s Head Automatica put on their Sunday best to showcase their most recent release, ‘Popaganda,’ in their return to the West Coast.
The local openers wowed the audience with their solid reggae guitar work and sometimes hackneyed bouncy rhythms. The lead singer’s unprofessionalism may have been an indication of why this band mostly performs in a garage, but their cover of Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’ had the older crowd in awe of their solid effort.
Chicago’s The Audition seemed a kindred spirit of Fall Out Boy and Panic! At the Disco, but their downbeats and crisp guitar work on ‘Approach the Bench’ and ‘Dance Halls Turn Into Ghost Towns’ overcame their overly dramatic melodic tendencies. Vocalist Danny Stevens’ stage presence and conversations with onlookers kept all eyes glued to stage, especially the screaming female tweens in the front row.
The Head Automatica set started a little early but with a bang. The band played the gospel-like ‘At the Speed of a Yellow Bullet’ that had fans and non-fans alike dancing to a guitar sound reminiscent of The Beatles’ ‘Taxman.’
Lead vocalist Daryl Palumbo added new dynamics by screaming the hooks, which was reminiscent of his other band, Glassjaw and foreshadowed to a new sound from their British-pop makeover in 2006. They immediately transitioned into the fuzzily distorted ‘Dance Party Plus’ minus the vocal additions of Tim Armstrong (Operation Ivy, Rancid), which seemed out of place anyway.
Coming off their sporadic East Coast ‘100 Percent Maybe’ Tour (referring to the band’s numerous cancellations due the singer’s bout with Crohn’s disease) with the melodic hardcore band Glassjaw, Palumbo ensured that the excitement and feelings of newness would be carried over into 2007 for Head Automatica. It was good to see Palumbo invigorated, dancing on stage with no sign of cancellations in sight.
With radio-friendly singles like the instantly catchy ‘Graduation Day’ and everyone’s favorite You Tube sing-along ‘Beating Hearts Baby,’ the New York natives shone like solid gold in the songs that have catapulted their success in recent years. But it was their other efforts away from MTV rotations that stole the show.
From their newest record, the New Yorkers pulled out the glam rock with ‘Lying Through Your Teeth,’ a song about a two-timing significant other, and pointed fingers with ‘Laughing at You,’ a chronicle of Palumbo’s experiences in the music business. The retro stylings of ‘Scandalous’ brought back the sock-hop days of 1950s.
The recent departure of original drummer Larry Gorman (Glassjaw) had some negative effects for the overall full sound of each song.
‘Oxycontin’ (better known as ‘Nowhere Fast’ post-record label disagreement) lacked a flair and musical tightness that could not be completely hidden by timely bass-keyboard synchronicity and the simple, concise guitar of Craig Bonich. Gorman’s precise vocal harmonies were also absent, and the flat accompaniment of Jerry Rowe did little justice to the lead.
Head Automatica did unveil new songs in anticipation of a new EP coming out this year. Of the two, ‘Lookin’ Good’ portrayed Palumbo as contradictory to his once-cold demeanor to all things mainstream. He acknowledged himself to have something in common with the people he hated: ‘I’m wannabe, I want to be.’
The boys snuck in the standout ‘The Razor’ before they concluded with Jessie Nelson on the heavy keyboard introduction into ‘I Shot William H. Macy’ that had the Soma assembly in confession of their personal wrongdoings as fans sang ‘Sleeping with the enemy seems to get the best of me.’
Head Automatica was more than their vintage outfits and long hair. Their performance was a ‘worship and tribute’ to the music they love, and in that they were successful.

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