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The Hugs, May 31 at Dante's

Portland's next big thing looks the part, and kind of plays it, too.

[TEEN BEAT] The Hugs will play Dante's in about 20 minutes, but at the moment they're huddled together out front, standing on tippy-toes with craned necks to see around the club's large, pierced and tattooed bouncer. Oregon's stringent liquor laws keep the high-school-age Portland quartet from entering the club to watch openers the Foxtrots take cracks at a largely seated, not-quite-ready-to-rock crowd. The Hugs don't seem to mind.

The OLCC might treat the Hugs like second-class citizens, but the band's collective foot is already in the music industry's metaphoric door (in England, at least). The band has garnered the attention of some pretty important U.K. music-biz movers and shakers, including James Endeacott—the A&R guy and 1965 Records founder who is credited with discovering the Strokes and the Libertines. Reportedly, he's close to signing the Hugs.

But this isn't England, this is Dante's. Once they've been given the green light, the band hustles into the venue like a group of thirsty claim-jumpers, untangling cords and hollering impenetrable teen-speak. Each stylistically disparate member looks vaguely like daytime television's idea of a rock-'n'-roll persona: the well-groomed twee kid, the smoking psychedelic kid, the Converse-clad "alternative" kid. Frontman Danny Delegato is the Guns N' Roses-era caricature, his oversized sleeveless shirt and cowboy hat dwarfing his boyish frame. When asked to check his mic, he lets out a howl that dovetails into a squeal.

Despite the band members' extreme marketability, the Hugs' live set is hectic and loose, with songs losing structure and Delegato's vocals disintegrating into Mark E. Smith rambles or Paul Westerberg screams (though I'd forgive him for not catching either reference). Drummer Kelly McKenzie absolutely kills—probably the most entertaining member of a very entertaining band—even if his thrashing can't keep the rest of the band from wandering into the occasional rock-'n'-roll disaster. He tries repeatedly to end the band's seemingly endless final song (which came complete with dangerous mic-stand-wielding and a Hendrix-style collapse or two) with little success.

The Hugs' onstage theatrics prove the band has chops to match its natural talent (it's hard to believe these are teenagers), but the members still show their age when it comes to songwriting. I leave the club without remembering any specific song—and hoping the Hugs' development doesn't suffer as the band rushes forth to become the next big thing.

The Hugs play Friday, June 8, with Hungry Mob, The Better to See You With, Strength, and Ashes to Ashes at Hawthorne Theatre. 8 pm. $6. All ages. The Hugs also play Saturday, June 9, with White Rabbits and Dat'r at Doug Fir. 9 pm. $7. 21+.