POP MUSIC

Frog Holler played at Iota on Saturday.
Frog Holler played at Iota on Saturday. (By Jen Lindsay)
Monday, March 20, 2006

Matt Pond PA

One wouldn't have to be terribly familiar with the Brooklyn-based group Matt Pond PA to guess that the chamber-pop quintet is one of the many lucky bands to have been anointed by the soundtrack from "The O.C." With only Dana Feder's rich cello making the group distinct from its peers, Matt Pond PA (the suffix comes from the ex-Philadelphia group's former home state) offered its version of hip, easy-listening indie rock in service of its latest album, "Several Arrows Later," though with each track's admittedly fine craftsmanship and thoughtful lyrics losing all nuance performed live.

The near-capacity crowd Saturday at the 9:30 club didn't seem to mind. The most entertaining moments, however, were the requests that were called out between songs. Pond threatened a 20-minute version of "Free Bird," and chided his band mates when they launched into the score from "Brokeback Mountain."

Pond's faux-frustration continued when the final request rang out: "We're not doing Slayer," Pond responded with a sigh.

-- Tricia Olszewski

The Hickories and Frog Holler

It was a satisfying night of roots rock at a packed Iota Saturday, with one new band making a lasting impression and one veteran band continuing to hone its sound and reputation.

The Hickories, an Arlington-based five-piece that released its debut offering, "Lost in Pennsylvania," in September, showed off an elegant, upbeat presence with warm, inviting songs that combined the best of folk and country.

The intricate, melodic vocal interplays between guitarist-singer Michelle Volpe and harmony singer Meghan Sharp are the songs' hooks -- and it doesn't hurt that both are easy to look at -- but the band, particularly Mike Conner's tasteful electric guitar and a rhythm section often carrying the melody, is a bonus. The original songs, "1965" and "Heather Lane" among them, were compellingly varied, and their cover of the Beatles' "What Goes On" demonstrated a welcome playful side. Think Last Train Home with women singers. In fact, that would be a terrific double-bill.

The maturation of headliner Frog Holler is a delight to see and hear. The Berks County, Pa., band has justifiably developed an avid fan base in the East and Midwest in the last decade. Where the six-piece ensemble formerly depended on the novelty of Mike Lavdanski's rock-style banjo playing to prick up the ears, the band has mellowed somewhat while remaining true to its vision and has never sounded tighter.

Singer-songwriter Darren Schlappich has discovered his inner Robert Earl Keen, writing tight songs with loose structures that tell personal stories amid jangly rock settings. Saturday night's set showcased songs from their fifth album, "Haywire," that brought forth ringing mandolin, banjo and guitar set against galloping rock beats.

-- Buzz McClain


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