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MUSIC REVIEW

VHS Or Beta rocks New Wave beat

Seven years ago, VHS Or Beta had a stage show that saw the band playing aimless synth drones while singing into vocoders, wearing black-light glasses, and standing generally motionless. But if the ever-changing Louisville band's career has been marked by a forward-looking refusal to be hemmed in by its own history, its performance at TT the Bear's, along with the recent ''Night on Fire" (Astralwerks), demonstrated that the past is still very much at the front of the group's minds.

Friday's show kicked off a coheadlining tour with Ambulance Ltd, which marked that band's sixth visit to Boston in support of last year's self-titled album. The New Yorkers ended the evening with a dose of indie-rock guitar power, but with the tour's closing spot alternating between the two bands, ''Night on Fire" being the newer album, and the recent success of New Wave revivalists like the Killers, it's VHS Or Beta that's primed to be the tour's focus.

While its concept-band gimmicks of yore may be gone, it isn't hard to view VHS Or Beta's current direction as an understandable progression from its earlier robotic-futurist incarnation. Onstage, the band whipped up a derivative but enjoyable New Wave cocktail that leaned so heavily on first-album Duran Duran and early Cure that the respective voices of guitarists Craig Pfunder and Zeke Buck were dead ringers for young Simon LeBon and Robert Smith.

Early on, Pfunder good-naturedly asked the seemingly eternal question regarding Boston audiences: ''What would it take for you guys to dance?" (Consensus from the crowd: it's just our town, man.) It would've been almost unthinkable for either the band or its music to make such a request in VHS Or Beta's early days, but powered by Mark Palgy's terrifically danceable bass playing and Mark Guidry's postpunk disco drumming, eventually the audience at least started clapping along with the beat without being asked.

It was that energy and connection with the crowd that really separated the band from its humble beginnings. Despite its synthesizer and all the technology going into the effects (and yes, there was a vocoder, used only once), the band that played on Friday was much more of a guitar band than on its CDs, giving them a visceral drive that they lacked when it seemed more clever to distance themselves from their audience than to invite them in.

Tourmates Robbers On High Street played a wickedly efficient set, fitting 10 songs into 30 minutes. Drawing from the just-released ''Tree City" (Scratchie/New Line), they came across as a rather astonishing carbon copy of Spoon, right down to singer Ben Trokan's uncanny duplication of Britt Daniel's stuffed-nose delivery. For those waiting for Spoon's follow-up to ''Kill the Moonlight," Robbers On High Street's power pop, fueled by a steady, late-period Zombies piano pulse, will do just fine for now.

The show was opened by local duo the Cyanide Valentine, who performed a fine set of arty, synthetic New Wave that sounded something like Suicide with an urgent need to dance and make the 1981 Top 40.

Ambulance Ltd/VHS Or Beta
With Robbers On High Street and the Cyanide Valentine
At: T.T. the Bear’s, Friday

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