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The Lightweight Champs fight uphill battles with breezy power-pop

The Lightweight Champs have a Weezer-esque ease with big hooks and engaging melodies. Photo credit: Facebook

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In the flourishing, vital times of my early teens, I became obsessed with professional wrestling. Like other kids getting into the performance art-leaning sport, I initially took it as face value. It didn't take long, though, for me to become engaged with it in a different way, judging it more for its storytelling merits and for the creativity and athletic prowess of the wrestlers. I became, in pro wrestling parlance, a "smark" - a portmanteau of "smart mark," denoting my love of the form while separating me from the ranks of the dumb-dumbs that would call Hulk Hogan their favorite wrestler.

During the golden age of my loving pro wrestling, there was a unit of wrestlers who would come to be known as the "Smackdown Six," so-called because of the way that these six competitors managed to elevate an entire show through their embracing of more grounded, technically adept styles. These wrestlers were Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Edge, Eddie and Chavo Guerrero, and Rey Mysterio, Jr. Whenever my dad, fond of rolling his eyes at the phoniness of the whole enterprise, would deign to watch the program with me, the matches featuring these performers were the only ones he could appreciate. There was no denying their talent, even to the layman, and they worked their asses off to prop up what could be, at times, an embarrassing show to watch with the uninitiated.

Some of these wrestlers, in addition to their clear in-ring skill, were much smaller than the behemoths that pro wrestling usually prefers. They helped to spearhead the Light Heavyweight Championship division, which stood out amongst the pack for their fast-paced, technically accomplished action. Something tells me Tacoma power-pop trio the Lightweight Champs are referencing boxing with their name, but the nimbleness and charm displayed by the competitors in the WWE's Light Heavyweight division are reflected in the music of the Lightweight Champs: underdogs advancing the game would seem to line up with the Lightweight Champs' aims.

Formed in 2016, the Lightweight Champs don't have a surfeit of material at hand for perusal, though their debut EP Semi-Pro points to a fighting spirit that acknowledges mild setbacks with as much importance as small victories. The EP comes out of the gate kicking with a brief pop-punk ode to a failing relationship, "We Don't Work." This is a band that doesn't linger on licking wounds, rather inclined to proudly march forward in the face of difficulties. Their biggest success comes in the form of the second track, "The Arsonist," with its Weezer-esque ease in accessing big hooks and engaging melodies. Befitting the Weezer comparison, this is a band that would have undoubtedly found a dedicated audience in the heady days of the ‘90s. (Possibly fun fact: there's a reference to the famously bloody wrestling company ECW buried in Weezer's song, "El Scorcho.")

Made up of Justin Stiles on bass, Ryan Garrette on guitar, and Angie Watson on drums, the Lightweight Champs are quite adept at creating melodic, stripped-down power-pop that's breezy and refreshingly upbeat. Album closer "Yeah E. Yeah Esq." finds the Lightweight Champs at their most muscular, tapping into a driving beat that stutter-steps in places to keep things unpredictable. While nothing they're doing is really breaking the mold that was set by similar bands in the ‘90s alt-rock scene, they're presenting the platonic ideal of the genre, propping it up with boundless enthusiasm and a carefree sense of fun.

For anyone who frequently finds themselves fighting an uphill battle with a sneaky smile on their face, you might find a kindred spirit in the Lightweight Champs.

The Lightweight Champs, w/ Diced Candy, Lenu, more TBA, all ages, 7 p.m., Saturday, May 6, $7, Real Art Tacoma, 5412 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma, realarttacoma.com

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