The Temper Trap, 9:30 Club, Washington DC

Make no mistake, the Temper Trap are excellent live.

Rating: 8

Following on from the use of ‘Sweet Disposition’ in the Zooey Deschanel / Joseph Gordon-Levitt rom-com ‘(500) Days Of Summer’, the Temper Trap became an overnight sensation in America; probably much to their own confusion and consternation. While a single hit pop song has been the start of many careers, the true measure of a band’s longevity depends on two things: One, the fans have to take to the album, preferably in droves (check); and two, the fans need to be patient enough to wait around if you go for months or years without touring or releasing anything (check). ‘Need Your Love’ - the first song from the Aussie band’s confusingly titled second album, ‘The Temper Trap’ - has been consumed by the devoted as quickly as Cookie Monster can swallow biscuits. This one song is proving incredibly decisive on the interwebs; if this is a sign of things to come, the Temper Trap risk alienating their original fans, but they also have the potential to pick up new fans with their new, self-described “American” direction. They are now a five-piece, with former touring keyboardist / guitarist Joseph Greer becoming a full member.

So it’s with some trepidation that one approaches a 2012 Temper Trap gig. Fans have come to know their live performance, while dotted with the occasional ballad, is truly about anthemic rock. But with a new album looming, you should expect new songs to be included in the mix. And they are. But here’s the main problem with airing new songs before an album is released: no-one knows the words. The aforementioned ‘Sweet Disposition’ can be sung along to. And indeed, pogo-ed along to. Their sold-out show at DC’s 9:30 Club – only their second ever in this city and the last date on a hastily announced but swiftly sold out, short North American tour – begins with new song ‘London’s Burning (Repeater)’, an ode to the riots that took place last summer in their adopted hometown. Lead guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto’s hard chords with frontman Dougy Mandagi’s wailing vocals? A good, rocking start.

This is quickly followed up by forthcoming single ‘Need Your Love’: it’s fine but nothing special, with a chorus that’s bordering on trite but is easy enough to learn on the day of. Festival favourite this summer? Possibly. As if to rescue any possible downturn in the set, the inspiring and universally adored ‘Love Lost’ swoops in to lift punters’ spirits. This is then followed by another new song, ‘The Sea is Calling’, which sees Mandagi switch between a synth and a tambourine; it has nice harmonies, but you can’t get over its slowness as it plods along. Yet another new song ‘This Isn’t Happiness’ seems to point that not all is sunny in the Temper Trap camp; ‘Trembling Hands’ has the potential to be the band’s torch song. Except Mandagi screams out at the very end, which breaks you out of your reverie. And maybe that’s the point?

While Mandagi clearly isn’t shying away from his trademark “reaching arms” limb movements throughout the evening, it’s nice to see he’s discernibly comfortable onstage, undulating his body to the songs. And how often to do you see a singer “work it” onstage these days, without being vulgar? This confidence in himself, his bandmates and the new material will trump anyone’s reservations on whether the new songs are better than their old ones: make no mistake, the Temper Trap are excellent live. That is all you need to know.

Fan favourite and 2010 touring stalwart ‘Fader’ is conspicuously absent from tonight’s set list. Is the Aussie band trying to distance themselves from their first album ‘Conditions’? Are they trying to get fans ready to say goodbye to the first album and hello to ‘The Temper Trap’? It will definitely take a lot more touring and promo before their second album is deemed as triumphant as and is embraced by fans as ’Conditions’ was, but with the kind of poise they displayed at their SXSW appearances and on this short North American tour, all signs point to them succeeding.