You’ve got to have Gratitude

Guess you kinda had to be there.

For the first show in which Gratitude played a full set, the new San Francisco-based band—which features erstwhile local Jonah Matranga, once of Far, Onelinedrawing et al. as its vocalist—chose to play at the Orangevale all-ages club The Boardwalk. The band—whose self-titled debut album for Velvethammer/Atlantic is in the can, awaiting release next February—followed opening band the Proles and middle-slot act Quitter to the stage. By the time the five-piece Gratitude kicked into its set, it was all of 10:30 p.m.—which is to say that The Boardwalk’s policy of all-ages shows, which start early and wind up well before midnight, makes it feasible for the kids to rock on a school night and not be walking toast the next day.

OK, a moment of candor—I didn’t take notes, and memory won’t quite serve up what Gratitude opened with. But the crowd—which filled less than half the club but apparently was a decent draw for a Tuesday night—was into the band from the first note. Matranga, wearing a sweaty gray T-shirt emblazoned with the word “VOTE,” was out of breath, imploring the audience to join in right away. “You don’t know the words to any of these songs yet, so you can’t sing along,” he panted. “But you can help us count off to begin.”

The band’s material was straightforward, melodic modern rock in the vein of U2, which it delivered with the conviction of people who have figured out that desperate times call for direct communication and unapologetic sincerity. (When there’s a draft blowing and a whiff of fascism in the air, ironic poses in trucker hats and also-ran metal-band T-shirts don’t quite cut it.) Highlights included such future arena-rock Bic-lighter moments as “Someone to Love”; a Beatlesque tune called “All in a Row,” which Matranga said the band co-wrote with musician/record producer Brendan O’Brien; and a soft-to-loud ballad called “The Greatest Wonder.” The crowd’s response was fresh, enthusiastic and genuine. After the show, Matranga signed copies of a free two-track promo CD supplied by the band’s label.

A brief mention should be made of The Boardwalk’s hair-metal hall of fame, essentially a bunch of framed 8-by-10-inch glossies that once occupied an entire wall until they disappeared. Fortunately, someone got the smarts to put some pictures back up on one section of the wall at stage right. These days, The Boardwalk—at 9426 Greenback Lane—seems to specialize in nu-metal, modern rock and emo acts, a smart move when you’re catering to a younger audience. But once upon a time, the club was the place to catch touring bands from rock’s fluffy-hair and spandex-pants era. And every once in a while, some of those acts—like Y&T’s Dave Meniketti, who plays there October 22—will grace The Boardwalk’s stage.