Power-pop is a record reviewer term for high-energy, Beatles-esque music made by intelligent-dork bands that, though they have given it the old college try, can't actually muster the songcraft, cleverness, vocal agility or production ingenuity of the Beatles. First applied to early-'70 acts such as the Raspberries and Badfinger (the latter group actually being McCartney proteges), and subsequently given a new lease on life with the '90s advent of such bands as the Wondermints and Apples in Stereo. The Shins' debut album shimmered with pure power-pop exuberance.
That definition, simmering with cynicism and holier-than-thou attitude, is drawn from the just-published tome "The Rock Snob's Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Rockological Knowledge" (Broadway Books, $12.95).
But with power-pop, the writers -- David Kamp and Steven Daly, who are, after all, rock critics -- have perhaps let their cleverness get the better of them. While it's true that few of the acts fitting under this umbrella have matched the mastery of the Beatles, it's also true that a few of them have come close on occasion -- Cheap Trick, Big Star and the Raspberries among them. Power-pop has retained its import because it blends the cacophony of '60s garage-rock with well-crafted, memorable songs -- ideally, anyway.
In Buffalo, not surprisingly, a long history of power-pop is discernible, dating back to the late '70s and perhaps even earlier. The scene that erupted at the tail-end of the '70s around clubs like McVan's was, in essence, a punk rock one, but it also had its roots in power-pop, as acts like the Jumpers made plain. Take that band's timeless "You'll Know Better When I'm Gone," for example; it's raw and raucous, but it has a pop heart and a hook big enough to hang your hat and the hats of all your friends on. That's power-pop, to my ears. Throughout the '80s and '90s, bands like Ansley Court and Girlpope paid homage to the power-pop of yore with dirty guitars and guilty-pleasure choruses.
Today, there are more than a few promising power-pop acts in town, and a host of them are joining forces to present "Pop Rocks," a power-pop mini-fest at 9 p.m. Saturday in Nietzsche's, 248 Allen St. The Sweet Unknown, Floozie, Full Treble Stereo, Humphrey, Last Days of Radio and the Transonics share the bill.
The rebellious among us have surely glommed onto the idea that loving power-pop is, in a sense, reclaiming the thrill of pop melody and harmony from the Top 40 set, who have employed it, it must be said, toward rather dubious ends. Or perhaps you just love a catchy tune, and prefer it wrapped in crunchy guitars, rather than the white, clean and neat glitz of "American Idol." Either way, immersing yourself in the bubbling-under Buffalo power-pop scene is advisable.
For more information on "Pop Rocks," check www.wnymusic.com. www.lastdaysofradio.com. www.thetran-sonics.com., www.humphreyrock.com, or call Nietzsche's at 886-8539. Admission is $5 at the door, and the first 100 people through will be rewarded with packages of the cult-classic candy Pop Rocks.