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Last night, I stood outside the Beat Kitchen, as I have many times before, waiting for my best beer-hero buddy John Duggan to ride up Belmont Avenue. It was already a good night, because any night that starts with a can of Hamm’s is going to be special. Tonight we were seeing the much-hyped (with good reason) Minneapolis punk band, Off With Their Heads.
Off With Their Heads is a project based around Ryan Young, whose songs covers familiar topics, such as heartbreak, depression and drug used, but manages to tackle it all in a fresh and self deprecating manner. Unlike other bands that can be classified as “pop punk” or “beard punk,” Off With Their Heads comes out swinging with a “no bullshit,” dark and often times unsettling set of punches, to the tune of familiar pop hooks. The lazy comparison would be to call them the middle ground between Rivithead and J Church. I tend to see them as the band that makes depression fun again.
The show started off with Mundelein Illinois’ young upstarts, the Please and Thank Yous, who whether they know it or not were playing chords straight from the handbook written by Cringer and Jawbreaker. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, as these are two of my all time favorite bands. Their set was short and favorably rough around the edges, just the way any young punk band should be.
Following them was the Vicelords (not to be confused with the Chicago street gang of the same name), which was an all-star band of sorts. Featuring members of current Chicago punk bands Vacation Bible School and the Brokedowns and fronted by veteran Chicago punk front man and ex-Apocalypse Hoboken singer, Todd Pot. Their sound was equal parts Easy Instructions for Complex Machinery era Apocalypse Hoboken and drugged out psych-punk. This was my first time seeing these guys and I was equally impressed and left wanting a few more songs. Todd Pot still has one of the best, most unique voices in punk rock.
Finally, rounding out the evening was Off With Their Heads. They played a healthy blend of older songs and newer songs, mixing in limited witty banter and beer soaked sing-a-longs. What I found most surprising about the show is that their Chicago following has grown a bit since last I saw them. Previously, I saw them at the same venue playing with semi-known locals, but ended up playing to a room that was only a quarter full. The audience this time around was far more receptive and slightly younger. The space was a little over half full, so roughly a hundred heads in the room. It felt good seeing them receive a positive response here, as often bands of their size, regardless of how much a Chicago audience likes a band, will simply fold their arms, bob their heads and politely clap at the end of the song. Seeing the Beat Kitchen transformed into a “moshitorium” for a band that isn’t a local hardcore band was refreshing.
I think what strikes me the most about Off With Their Heads lyrics is that Young says (and quite possibly acts out) things we’ve all felt, but rarely had the courage to say out loud. We’ve all been through break ups where we thought that maybe putting a brick through your ex’s window would be a good idea, but better judgment kicks in and instead you throw yourself a one person pity-party and listen to Morrissey all night. Young straight up says it in their song Horse Pills and the Apartment Lobby, leaving you under the impression that there’s a pretty good chance that the content of the song actually happened. The honest lyrics are really only part of the equation though.
Although their songs are based off of the rudimentary punk rock formula, they do what great pop song writers have been doing for years. They take a familiar formula and reinvent it in a new and interesting way. Darker, high gain guitar tones similar to their fellow Minneapolis punks, Dillinger Four and Rivithead, recorded to sound like Sorry Ma era Replacements, tossing in the honesty of Jawbreaker and using the chord progressions made famous by bands like the Ramones and Dead Boys. Not that this is a hard-fact formula, because listening to their first record, Hospitals and then comparing it to their most recent album, From the Bottom, you see a progression of a band who might show its influences, but just as soon tears them down.
Off With Their Heads is one of the best things going in punk rock right now, so if you haven’t gotten on board yet, you probably should. They’re currently embarking on a European tour, but will be back in Chicago April 1st at Ronny’s.
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