With the recent "Don't Be Afraid of Rock & Roll Vol. 1" EP, The Breton Sound reminds listeners that its members are music fans first.
[Update] When Foo Fighters performed in the front window of Preservation Hall, The Breton Sound’s Jonathan Pretus made it to the front row. Nola.com ran a photo of him, his wife Julia and his brother Brian from punk band Pears separated by a barrier and three feet from Dave Grohl, and the band’s recent EP makes his affection for the band clear. Don’t Be Afraid of Rock & Roll Vol. 1 trades in the same sort of big rock as Foo Fighters—poppy but heavy, scaled up to energize arenas. They don’t play them yet, but when 14,000 people are ready, so is The Breton Sound.
Tonight they’ll scale down and play The Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s “Ogden After Hours” series, where I will interview the band mid-set. One thing we’ll likely talk about is recording Don’t Be Afraid of Rock & Roll Vol. 1 since the sessions took place at Ardent Studios in Memphis—the studio home of the iconic pop band Big Star. On the surface, there’s little on the EP that says the band felt Big Star ghosts in the studio, but the lovely, direct folk-rock ballad “Love You More” suggests that #1 Record is in somebody’s record collection. That could also be The Beatles talking, though. Pretus has been part of the series of tribute shows to individual Beatles and was the musical director for the George Harrison night.
More commonly, The Breton Sound’s songs churn enthusiastically while Stephen Turner’s lead guitar threads busily through, almost in his own world but not quite. The band shouts out another influence on “Rivers Cuomo,” and his guitar prevents the chorus from sounding too familiar. Amidst the charge of Pretus’ rhythm guitar and the rhythm section of John and Joe Bourgeois, his high, brittle, pointillist lead lightens the load.
The Breton Sound have always existed awkwardly in the New Orleans indie rock community because they’re a part of it more by circumstance than aesthetics. Their musical models made big, clear pop songs, so they rarely test notions of pop the way many indie bands do. At the same time, The Breton Sound offer compensating charms by being such naked fans. It has covered Weezer’s debut album and Green Day’s Dookie as part of its Desert Island Discs series. Right now, fans can vote on what album the band will cover at a November 14 show at One Eyed Jacks. (Up for consideration: Foo Fighters’ The Color & The Shape, The Who’s Who’s Next, Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, or Collective Soul’s self-titled album )
In true music nerd style, the one obvious acknowledgment of Big Star’s influence comes late in “Rivers Cuomo” when Pretus references not Big Star but The Replacements. He sings “Children by the boatload / wait for Rivers Cuomo / to come around,” intentionally echoing lines from “Alex Chilton,” The Replacements’ tribute to the Big Star member. It’s valuable because The Breton Sound’s commercially viable rock can sound like a weighed-out career option. By invoking “Alex Chilton” as he does, Pretus reminds us that playing in a band can be highest form of rock fandom there is.
Updated 11:31 a.m.
John Bourgeois plays drums, not Mark Bourgeois. The text has been changed to reflect this correction.