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Black Helicopter rises to occasion

SOMERVILLE -- It's never too late to write a good pop song. Boston's usually sludgy, heavy-rock quartet Black Helicopter is no Click Five, but it's sweet new spin, ``Head of Steam," from its recently released CD, ``Invisible Jet," is the surprise classic pop rocker of the summer.

Helicopter frontman Tim Shea is no stranger to a pop hit. His previous band, noise rockers Green Magnet School, scored local radio cred in the early 1990s with the slinky anthem ``Windshield." When Black Helicopter played at the Abbey Lounge on Thursday, some wag in the audience gave a shout-out for ``Windshield" as if it were ``Freebird." The band promptly ignored the request.

These veterans stuck mainly with new songs, even launching the set with an as-yet-unreleased rocker titled ``Invasion of Prussia." Another ``Invisible Jet" stand out, the bittersweet ``Buick Electra," came next. Afterward, ``Head of Steam" lost its sugary backing harmonies in the guitar-heavy live mix, but still managed to hit some breezy highs.

Following several swirling rockers topped by Shea's dry, subtly demonstrative singing, the set ended with harder, older songs from the band's debut ``That Special Function." But even the dark, discordant ``Army Pup Tent" and the misogynistic ``Crème de la Bouche" had a newfound clarity. It's never too late to lighten up.

Awesome Color, Black Helicopter's labelmate on Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore's Universal imprint Ecstatic Peace, wrestled warped guitars into an AC/DCish power stomp. Local Theremin player Kris Thompson was a guest on the band's wall-of-noise finale. New local band Oliver North, fronted by Mike Carreiro, opened with fuzzy blasts of agit-prop punk.

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