Based on the British group’s debut album on Polydor, you’d think that Gene was a Smiths tribute band made good. The brisk, catchy tunes, the pained romanticism of the lyrics and, most of all, Martin Rossiter’s powerfully lilting vocals certainly parallel the Smiths, yet the quartet doesn’t exactly replicate Stephen Morrissey and company.
The songs are a wee bit grittier and, as sharply written as they are, lack the Oscar Wildean wit that spark Morrissey even at his most morose. It’s a subtle but important distinction--though Gene’s appearance at the Roxy on Saturday didn’t do much to play it up.
The band played flawlessly, with as much attention to flourishes and facial expressions as a professional figure skater. It’s too bad Gene doesn’t put as much energy into being as inventive musically.
Rossiter, in a button-down shirt and blazer, cut a dapper and delicately anguished figure as he worked his way through an assortment of pop star gestures--tossing a towel into the enthusiastic crowd, reaching out to the adoring hands of those in the front row as he crooned “take my hand” during “Sleep Well Tonight.”
Guitarist Steve Mason, with his bedraggled Beatle hairstyle, unleashed the occasional flashy solo punctuated with a petulant toss of his head.
Derivative or not, on stage Gene certainly delivers its music with crisp self-assurance and just enough impishness to let everyone concerned know that it’s all a lark anyhow.