|They were good as At The Drive-In. They are even better as Sparta. Hailing from El Paso, Texas, these not-so Southern rockers took the stage at the Newport Music Hall with a chip on their shoulder and an amphitheater tour with Weezer under their belt.
Although the crowd wasn’t enormous, there were definitely more than a few there to enjoy this show. Guitarist and lead singer Jim Ward has a definitive stage presence without demanding anything. Just the attitude, strong voice and stern stance behind the mike give him an aura of control, while guitarist Paul Hinojos produces the excitement and energy. But the rhythm section of bassist Matt Miller and drummer Tony Hajjar are what really makes Sparta work. Without these two, the beat and boom of the music would be missing, and no aura or energy can make up for a lack of timing and strong backbeats.
Back in the summer, Hajjar told emuse-ic that the one thing he liked about Sparta was they do what they want. They are rock, punk, pop and just about anything else you can think of. But without the freedom from Dreamworks Records, who knows where this band would be. Another Blink 182 perhaps? Another Green Day? Maybe. But Sparta stands alone in a world filling with clones.
Just from the first two songs off of Wiretap Scars prove Sparta have a great club punk sound mixed with large mass appeal. The first track, “Cut Your Ribbon” shows some punk roots but is really more along the lines of small club, local band underground rock. That sound really comes out during “Air.” Ward’s voice has a crackle, gargle and rhythm that mold together like a good 7-year-old on a rainy day and a handful of Play-Do.
Unfortunately for those in Columbus, Sparta is not being played on any radio with consistency, and that is a shame. Sparta has a sound that both younger rejects can get into and older music fans can appreciate. There is a definite radio-friendly sound to their music, but at the same time, Sparta keeps the air of underground and the element of anti-commercial within their grasp.
For those who were at the Newport that night, they got to see a great showing of music. Sparta will not blow anyone away with a great stage performance. In fact, they play with low light and dark corners to hide in. But the music filled the music hall like biting on a soft chocolate ice cream cone. Shockingly sweet, but leaving in its wake a headache. But like the ice cream, the sound won out and the pain goes away, leaving behind a pleasant taste to the pallet.