The Soft Pack delivers despite a sparse crowd at Black Cat’s backstage


Matty McLoughlin, Matt Lamkin and Brian Hill of The Soft Pack perform at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C. (Kyle Gustafson/For The Washington Post)

If you want to find out what a band is made of, make it play a room where the members can see every single person’s face. The first presidential debate is probably stiffer competition in Washington than in other cities, but for whatever the reason, hard-charging San Diego five-piece the Soft Pack summoned only a double-digit crowd to the Black Cat’s backstage Wednesday night.

Your loss, responsible voters! Touring behind its second full-length album, “Strapped,” the Artists Formerly Known as the Muslims (the band dropped that provocative moniker after a few singles & EPs) delivered a taut, confident set that showed the band to be club-half-full kind of guys. (Even if the club was less than half full.) Punk deity Ian MacKaye was in the house; his presence is a force-multiplier, cred-wise.

It makes sense that MacKaye would approve of this band. The Soft Pack may be a generation younger but sounds as if it could be his contemporary. The new songs with which the band front-loaded its 57-minute set — “They Say,” “Tallboy” — are more melodic and less abrasive than the songs from its eponymous 2010 debut, sounding more than ever like a (good) Reagan-era throwback. The jaunty “Bobby Brown” might have been a Top 40 hit had it come out in 1986. It sounds like Squeeze to roughly the same degree “Captain Ace” sounds like the Smiths.

In his spare stage patter, singer Matt Lamkin has the deadpan poise (and the hairline) of a young Bill Murray. But the earlier material, such as the raging, set-closing “Answer to Yourself” or “Extinction,” a tart holdover from the band’s brief days as the Muslims, were full of sweat, not ironic distance.

Klimek is a freelance writer.

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