Black Lives Matter. The fact that it needs to be said shows how very far we still have to go as a country. We hear you and we are with you.
Pulling up rather late to the Subterranean, fighting off the cold-death-rain as I ran from the ATM around the corner, I was over joyed by being inside. I handed my ID to door guy, followed by ten bucks and ran up the stairs, hearing the last few notes of Big Knife’s set. This was my second biggest regret of the night. My first being that I missed the opening band, Duress‘ set.
Fronted by local zinester and defender of the stage dive, Matt Rolland (Mindless Mutant zine), Duress features current members of other local straight edge bands One Foot in the Grave and Poison Planet. Duress brings a fast, abrasive and short brand of hardcore to the party, which sits somewhere between Minor Threat and SS Decontrol.
Getting their start by handing out demo tapes at local hardcore shows, they’ve built their own mini hype machine on the local hardcore message board, along side regular shows around the Chicago and Northwest Indiana area. I was disappointed that I missed their set, but being a local band, I’m sure I’ll cross paths with them in the near future.
You can download their demo for free at the Myspace profile.
Chicago’s Big Knife, who describe themselves as “the new wave of Hell Yeah Metal,” play thrashy lo-fi alcohol fueled garage punk with heavy elements of stoner rock and healthy doses of New Wave of British Heavy Metal thrown in for flavor. Beyond hearing the songs on their Myspace, I honestly don’t know much about them, which adds to the sadness of catching the last few chords of their set.
No Slogan, hailing from Chicago’s south side hit the stage third. These Chicago punk veterans have been heavily active in the Southkore records scene, as well as socially active in the Pilsen and Little Village communities. Their style of socio-political punk rock brings to mind the sound of classic Chicago punks such as the Bhopal Stiffs and the Effigies, while their punk rock ethics come straight out of the DIY scene.
I’ve seen No Slogan more times than I can honestly remember and over the last two years, they’ve been getting consistently better. Where their first two 7” were good, their latest album, Aversion Therapy (Residue Records) ups the bar quite a bit. Their set last night was honestly the best I’ve ever seen them play. Fast, tight, aggressive and completely in sync with one another.
Hjertestop, from Copenhagen, Denmark took the stage next. Their sound is similar to the obscure sounds found on the classic Killed By Death compilations. With a definite slant towards European squatter punk and an obvious early 80’s East Bay vibe propelling them, Hjertestop manage to create a sound that’s familiar, yet unique. Their set was fun and high energy, in a way that only a Euro-punk band can execute. The band is made up of ex-members of the Young Wasterners and Incontrollados and their sound is equally reminiscent of both bands. They execute with early 80’s street punk smarts, skillful knowledge of their instruments and a friendly tip of the hat to their influences.
Hjertestop will be returning to Chicago on May 2nd with Crude, Unit 21 and Closing in at the Beat Kitchen. Catch them while they’re still state side.
Last up was Masshysteri, who features ex-members of International Noise Conspiracy, the Viscous, the Regulations and countless other Swedish punk bands. Masshysteri seemingly draws influence from early 80’s punk bands such as the Avengers and the Mutants, while tying in aspects of American garage rock and hints of the arty early Los Angeles punk bands such as the Weridos and X.
The set was a lot shorter than I expected, but covered a great deal of ground, including ending the show with a cover of the Chuck Berry classic, Johnny B. Goode, sparking the most dancing of the entire night. Most of the songs were executing at slightly below break neck speed, with clean almost jangly guitars acting as the motor that propelled the simple, yet effective drumming. The way the guitar tones played off of one another almost made me think that I heard a keyboard, even though there was a definite absence of keys.
Masshysteri reminds me of everything that I like about early 80’s punk without sounding like a nostalgia act. They borrow enough from their influences to keep things sounding familiar and rooted within the scene, but still manage to make things interesting by combining well executing male/female vocals with well written, high energy guitar playing. This all seems to be evidence that the members of this band took away some important positive aspects from their previous bands. They have a solid understanding that good musicianship can be executing effectively by keeping things simple and that over complicating things isn’t always necessary. They also give their style of punk some hips, allowing it to be as equally dancable as it is welcoming of the pogo.
Masshysteri’s full length LP, which is available stateside via Feral Ward records (http://www.feralward.com/home.html), is a well produced piece of punk rock, without sounding glossy and still manages to capture the vibe and energy of their live performance. Unfortunately, Masshysteri will not be returning to Chicago on this tour, so you’ll have to just take my word for it and give the LP a few spins while stage diving from your bed. The only other option would be a trip to Sweden.
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.
A week after the Inauguration I’ve warmed up from the seven hours spent standing on the National Mall in front of a jumbo-tron—not nearly as cold as my recently adopted Windy City, but you stand in place on cold ground for any length of time and you’re bound to get chilled—but the high of last week’s Inaugural Day has not quite worn off. It’s a feeling I hope we can bottle and sell and look back on the way people talk about JFK.
There were a lot of festivities that weekend besides the main event (or the surreal musical stylings of Garth Brooks and Beyonce at the concert on the Mall Sunday). Having had an opportunity to buy tickets for the Midwest Ball, I opted instead for the Hideout Big Shoulders Inaugural Ball last Monday night at the Black Cat—located on 14th Street near the U Street corridor in Washington, DC. The night brought a lineup of eight, mostly Chicago-based, bands and full coolers of Goose Island to our nation’s capitol. And for me, it brought my two favorite venues—from my new city and my old home—together for one night. A strange collision of hang-outs in honor of our new president.
U Street was awash with crowds lining up at Ben’s Chili Bowl (no chance of a half-smoke unless you were willing to stand in a line stretching down to 12th street, thanks to Obama and Mayor Fenty’s TV appearance the week prior), but down the block the folks from the Hideout had managed to give the Black Cat the intimacy of its own gigs. The upstairs’ stage was festooned with streamers, bunting, Chicago flags, and the iconic Obama print that a few weeks earlier had hung from outside the Hideout itself. Tim Tuten held forth from a podium, delivering the characteristic introductions as Freakwater, Ken Vandermark, Tortoise, Andrew Byrd, and the Waco Brothers, among others, all took their turn at the Chicago talent show. Thomas Frank, author of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?,” led the crowd in singing “Solidarity Forever” along with Jon Langford of the Waco Brothers. There was vintage “thrift store” fashion, traditional black tie ball attire, and the rest of us hipsters who preferred to stay warm in our jeans.
It was a great night for music—this was the eve of not just the Inauguration, but of Andrew Byrd’s new release as well—but the music was secondary. The night fit seamlessly into a weekend of almost unfamiliar good will. Tourists and locals alike walked around for four days smiling to one another and starting conversations in shopping lines and on the metro. Across town my hosts for the weekend were at an Inauguration party for a group of musicians—composers, National opera types, and others—wondering who would be selected for National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities chairmanships, while bemused that they’d never felt compelled to hang a flag from their house until this night. At the Black Cat, a number of fine musicians brought their best, but the crowd was really waiting through the jazz and fancy whistle tricks for a party. Icy Demons and Waco Brothers were high points, in my view the epitomizing party bands of the night. Jon Langford introduced his mates as a protest band that had very little to protest that night. When they played “I Fought the Law” it seemed that for this night WE had won. The Wacos—three Yanks, a Welshman and an Englishman, based in Chicago, doing coordinated kicks and guitar windmills couldn’t have expressed our feelings better. For one night indie irony and cynicism was dead.