ATLANTA -- During a momentary lull in Sunny Day Real Estate's set Wednesday at the Masquerade here, guitarist Dan Hoerner looked out at the audience with a goofy grin.
"I know this is gonna sound cheesy, but this is the best audience we've ever played for," he said. "It's like we never went away."
While the remark sounded like typical stage banter aimed at building audience excitement, it seemed to hold additional significance for this crowd on this night.
It had been more than four years since the group performed in Atlanta. In that time, Sunny Day Real Estate released a "farewell" album, broke up, re-formed and put out a new album, 1998's How It Feels To Be Something On -- from which Wednesday's performance drew heavily.
From the moment the lights went down in anticipation of the band taking the stage until its final exit, the audience was transfixed between meditative reverence and ecstatic glee.
"I've been waiting three f---ing years for this show," Leonard Biltmore, a 17-year-old student from Marietta, Ga., said. "It was a drag when they didn't tour after the last album."
Opening with "In Circles," a furious track off the band's 1994 debut, Diary, lead singer/guitarist Jeremy Enigk set the show's dramatic pace early on.
Standing still, bathed in pale green light and dressed simply in a white T-shirt and jeans, he looked every bit the quiet brooder his songs make him out to be.
In contrast, Hoerner was all smiles, bounding around the right side of the stage, peeling off shards of melodic noise from his guitar.
On "Guitars And Video Games," Enigk displayed his voice's incredible range as he segued from a guttural rumble to a soaring climax with apparent ease, while Hoerner, bassist Jeff Palmer and drummer William Goldsmith laid a solid foundation upon which Enigk displayed his vocal acrobatics.
Later, Hoerner and Enigk traded vicious riffs on "100 Million" (RealAudio excerpt), creating a wall of sound that bounced off the walls of the cavernous club.
Though Sunny Day Real Estate focused on the new album, their older songs seemed to hit hardest.
Diary's "Song About An Angel" opened with the gentle pull of the guitar and Enigk's delicate wails. Soon the inevitable explosion of noise came, with the entire band locked into a pulsing groove.
The set closed with an impassioned "Rodeo Jones," from the sophomore album, Lp2, which found even the normally low-key Enigk yanking at his guitar with abandon.
As the band left the stage the packed crowd responded with a roar.
"I hope they play some old stuff for the encore," said Matthew Slater, 20, who made a two-hour journey from Spartanburg, S.C., for the show. "Either way, this is the best show I've seen in years. I'd have driven 10 hours to get here."
Minutes later, the band returned and rolled out How It Feels To Be Something On's dynamic "Roses In Water" and the more-contemplative "Days Were Golden."
Then, beginning with Enigk, they left the stage one by one, until only Goldsmith was left, pounding out a mesmerizing series of beats under a dim blue light.
When the lights went out, Goldsmith departed too.
"I literally cried when I heard they broke up," Jason Gearnik, a 19-year old record store clerk from Atlanta, said. "I never thought I'd see them again. This is like a dream come true."