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January 20, 2006

We Are Scientists enjoy strong chemistry with fans

When We Are Scientists first take the stage at Subterranean on Monday night, they are one man short of a band. Singer and lead guitarist Keith Murray promises the packed club that bassist Chris Cain will be out in a moment. “He’s putting on his protective eye-gear,” says Murray.

And indeed, when the mustached Cain comes onstage a moment later, his bug-like glasses make a fashion statement rarely spotted outside of high school chemistry laboratories. It’s OK, though. They are scientists. Ahem.

The goggles, along with a debut album named after a J.D. Salinger story (With Love and Squalor, released last week on Virgin Records) and a website riddled with footnotes and good grammar, make We Are Scientists’ breed pretty obvious: They’re geeks. But they’re geeks who can make other geeks dance, and that’s saying something.

If pressed to describe We Are Scientists’ music, the genre “dance-punk” seems fitting. However, “punk” might overstate the band’s political significance. With lyrics like “Come on, you can’t go home/ The night is young, I’m blacking out/ But it’s been fun,” this band doesn’t appear to have much interest in social critiques. What they do have an interest in is cocky guitar chords and frenetic drumming. They stick to their strengths.

Midway through the set, everyone is dancing (or, at the very least, rapidly bobbing his or her head). Though many of the audience members don’t recognize every song off the band’s brand-new album, they have no trouble singing along with the singles, “The Great Escape” and “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt.” Fists punch the air as Murray shouts, “If you want to use my body, go for it.” Taking a break from their original compositions, the band performs a predatory-sounding punk-rock cover of the Ronnettes’ “Be My Baby,” complete with distortion and wailed “whoa-ohs.”

We Are Scientists hail from Brooklyn, and so does their supporting band, Oxford Collapse, lending credence to the belief that Brooklyn is populated exclusively by hipsters who prowl around being skinny, smoking cigarettes, and recording EPs to play for one another.

Although Oxford Collapse have hit upon some foot-tappingly catchy chord progressions, they bring to mind two key lessons for budding bands. One: If your lead guitarist can’t sing, he should be the lead guitarist, not the lead singer. Two: Don’t crack self-deprecating jokes about how We Are Scientists are better than you. No one will laugh. We Are Scientists are, in fact, better—that’s why you are the support band.

Talented though they are, We Are Scientists seem unassuming and not like rock stars by any stretch of the imagination. During guitar solos, drummer Michael Tapper snaps a few photos of the crowd, which one can imagine him excitedly uploading to his webpage later in the night (“Look! The place was almost sold out!”). The band returns for its encore perhaps 10 minutes after leaving the stage; they are genuinely surprised that the audience wants to hear more from them. “We never would have made you wait that long if we were actually doing an encore,” apologizes Murray.

Though they seem not to know it, We Are Scientists are getting big. NME, Britain’s weekly music magazine and the final word in indie rock judgments, has heaped praises on the band ever since England discovered them (which was, as with so many American rock bands, months before America discovered them). Their music is fast, loud, and deliberate—and what rock ’n’ roller doesn’t appreciate that?

Plus, all their promotional material involves kittens. And that is super cute.