The two American independent rock bands that played the 9:30 club Friday night, Boston's Scruffy the Cat and Austin's Zeitgeist, are the stuff that college radio is made on. These two guitar-driven quartets dress in jeans and T-shirts, play with very little pop polish, and root through 30 years of fashionable American influences in search of a sound they can call their own.
If the opener, Scruffy the Cat, carried the evening, it wasn't just because it featured a harder rock 'n' roll attack. Without sounding like a page ripped from a rock history book, the group integrated hillbilly twang and rockabilly frenzy into its raucous pop-rock material. If Charlie Chesterman and Stephen Fredette's distinctively furry harmonies had a country flavor, they were balanced by the duo's raw dual guitar attack.
In comparison with Scruffy, Zeitgeist's modernist folk-rock seemed altogether too self-conscious in its melding of Byrdsy chordal guitar work, western themes and elliptical lyricism. At times, the vocal play between John Croslin's dry monotone and Kim Longacre's high, crystalline harmonies reminded of Joan Baez singing counterpoint to Lou Reed. It was hard listening to Zeitgeist's clever originals or hip covers like "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" without being drawn first to the idea and then to the music.