Review | At 9:30 Club, Meet Me at the Altar is fueled by nostalgia

In her crucial essay “Emo: Where the Girls Aren’t,” critic Jessica Hopper held that for punk rock to maintain meaning, it needed “the continual presence of radicalized women,” with “those women being encouraged, given reasons to stay, to want to belong.” Hopper’s missive is more than two decades old, and in the last few years, her plea has been answered by a raft of bands fronted by and giving voice to people outside the pop-punk scene’s cis-white-male hegemony.

Chief among those acts is Meet Me at the Altar, an internet-born trio that descended on 9:30 Club on Wednesday night.

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Touring in support of last year’s aptly titled “Past // Present // Future,” MMATA delivers the familiar sounds that have ricocheted around skate parks, mall food courts and middle-school bedrooms for years: hummable melodies, palm-muted riffs and straight-ahead, double-bass-powered drumming.

But instead of a nasal whine bemoaning the state of the world, MMATA’S lyrics — equal parts venom and vulnerability — are sung with lush gusto by lead singer Edith Victoria, who looked the part of pop-punk frontperson in her jean skirt, pseudo-formal top, chunky kicks, fishnetted limbs and head of haphazard blue braids. (Victoria’s flair overcompensated for the casual comfort favored by guitarist Téa Campbell and drummer Ada Juarez).

After a pre-show pump-up mix featuring pop hits by Kesha, Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepsen, the trio hit the stage at the club’s eponymous hour with “Same Language,” a song that says bye-bye-bye to a paramour who “ain’t speaking the same language.” The crowd was copacetic, clapping, vibing and pogoing along with a little prodding from Victoria, who encouraged the women in the crowd not to be shy in the pit during “Hit Like a Girl.”

On “Beyond My Control,” she sang, “Bring me back to when we were careless kids,” evoking the nostalgia that fuels the pop-punk scene like so much late-night ramen. Halfway through the set, the band doubled down on the past by covering bits of three songs that speak to their influences: Kelly Clarkson’s perfect “Since U Been Gone,” the Jonas Brothers’ “Burnin’ Up” and a song from the soundtrack of the 2003 version of “Freaky Friday.”

The covers demonstrated the band’s love not only for pop songwriting but for the comparatively simpler times of the 2000s, when most of the audience members — outfitted more by Old Navy than Hot Topic — were kids. If nostalgia is the dominant mode of our increasingly fraught moment, so be it: At least it’s better served by bands such as Meet Me at the Altar than trios of 50-year-old White dudes grasping at past glories.

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