The New Zealand band Salad Boys made one of my favorite recent records, the deceptively titled debut album Metalmania — which doesn’t sound the least bit like heavy metal. It’s sunny, tuneful rock with jangly guitars, occasionally slipping into rhythmic grooves. The group, whose record is on the Chicago label Trouble in Mind, began its U.S. tour on Sept. 23 at the Owl. As the three musicians began playing, I wondered if they could pull off the arrangements on the record with just one guitar, bass and drums. But guitarist-singer Joe Sampson deftly switched between the rhythmic parts, riffs and solos — and the songs were more charged than they are in the studio recordings. The trio stretched out the cycling riff at the end of “No Taste Bomber,” turning it into a Velvet Underground-style rave-up that eventually morphed into a bit of the Doors’ “L.A. Woman.”
Two Chicago bands opened for Salad Boys at the Owl: American Breakfast started off the show with some scrappy garage rock. And then Clearance celebrated the release of its Rapid Rewards LP, which sounds very much like a lost-long Pavement album — a pretty good Pavement album, though the strong similarity can be distracting. It was less noticeable when the band was playing at the Owl. It was a fun and lively set.