Buffalo-based Head North performs unplugged pop-punk show

Guitarist and singer Brent Martone performed a solo acoustic set in the name of his band Head North, for an Activities Commission Mac’s Place-sponsored show at the KnightSpot on Saturday Nov. 16. Head North is a Buffalo-native pop punk band that recently released its debut album Arrows Acoustic, and has a small tour planned that spans several states. While the band’s lead vocalist and bassist recently departed, Head North continues to create an interesting, rugged sound.

The Subconscious was the first opener for the show, a hard rock three-piece band with a focus on electric guitar riffing and loud rhythm-centered vocals. The band’s most memorable lyrics employed accessible cliches, such as “crazy bitch.”

The four-piece progressive rock band Red Inc. was the second opener and by a long shot the strongest act. The band played long songs composed of riffs in a variety of time signatures that taxed the capability of each member. The sound was refined, maximized and powerful.

Head North featured Martone bravely singing and playing unplugged versions of the band’s songs on an acoustic guitar.

Martone’s voice resides in a powerful middle ground of grit and melody and marks an improvement from the previous singer’s cleaner vocals featured on the studio album. It is evident that his unique voice creates a branded sound for Head North.

Martone’s extroverted mannerisms with his audience had a simultaneously performative and natural quality. He wasn’t afraid to ask everyone to gather around him to pose for photographs while he covered part of a Journey song, blending some fun in with an already easily digestible show.

Although it is obvious that the point of the Head North show was that only one member would be playing, the solo instrumentation severely weakened the performance.

In one sense, it was refreshing to see artists doing something new in a genre as exhausted as pop punk. Punk styles tend to rely on a drumbeat and the presence of high-gain electric and bass guitars while employing timbre and dynamic because they consciously and purposefully lack technique. Missing these sounds, Head North’s instrumental power was weak.

The unplugged nature of the show might have been stronger and bolder than a full set’s worth of elementary chord strumming had the band considered employing a wider variety of techniques.

Head North’s show revealed a lot of Martone’s talent and creative drive. His extroversion, his wild-but-harmless persona and the versatility of Head North’s simple songs embody the spirit of pop punk.

Head North showed only one potential flaw, but it is a big one: If pop punk is not the only genre that matters, then the band is extinguishing its own greatness in its marriage to it.