The “rebirth” of rock has inspired A and R folks to toss dollars at some unlikely targets, but hey, if somebody at Warners is convinced that the next big thing will sound a lot like XTC, I’m not going to complain. Hot Hot Heat are a lot less patient with formalist exercises than their forebears were–they started out just four years ago, after all, as underground noisemakers–and they’re not afraid to bang the table when the puzzle pieces don’t quite fit together. The verses on last year’s Make Up the Breakdown (Sub Pop) blow out into the yelp-along choruses of a real pop-as-in-popular band rather than the ruminative displays of art-pop clinicians. It helps that singer Steve Bays has a sense of humor about his high anxiety–whether insisting “Antioxidants have got me causing accidents” on the fed-up “Oh, Goddamnit” or “Nobody likes a child who complains / And I won’t be that child anymore” on the even more fed-up “No, Not Now,” he’s hysterical in both senses. The hooky chatter of Bays’s keyboards and Dante DeCaro’s guitar are Hot Hot Heat’s entree to rock radio, but it’s drummer Paul Hawley who knocks them past neo-new-wave cuteness with a might and nuance that recall the Attractions’ Pete Thomas. They make a case that there was enough business left unfinished two decades ago to keep retro-minded bands busy for years, and I bet they survive the dreaded major-label debut with wit and hyperactivity intact. So old-timers and new-wave essentialists should hold back their snickers when Bays pleads “Why can’t we be creative?” on “Save Us S.O.S.”–he’s singing to a bedmate, not his bandmates. Friday, October 3, 7:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 773-472-0449 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.