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October 3rd, Beat Kitchen Chicago
In the 1990’s, punk and hardcore started to fray into two very distinct categories — “mainstream” and “underground.” As much of an oxymoron as “mainstream punk” might be, it became a reality with the increasing popularity of bands like Green Day, Rancid, Blink 182 and several others whose wallets and fan base swelled. Through the 1980’s and early 1990’s, punk bands really had no idea that there was money to be made playing punk rock, which allowed a lot of freedom and creativity, giving us a scene that was diverse and interesting; limiting any stylistic choke holds and horrible “post” this and “proto” that genre titles. There was basically punk, hardcore and everything else.
While the Green Days and Offsprings basked in mainstream MTV adoration, bands like MK Ultra, Charles Bronson, Los Crudos (all who shared members at one point or another), Pretentious Assholes, Billy Builders and countless other punk bands around Chicago (and the country really) were continuing to write songs that were far too extreme for mainstream rock radio. The scene was the most outspoken the punk scene had ever been, commenting the political as well as social.
Recently, in celebration of the release of their discography, MK Ultra reunited for one night at Chicago’s Beat Kitchen. With support from another “one time only” reunion band, Pretentious Assholes, east coasters Failures, Milwaukee’s Herds and locals Harms Way, they proved that their music is still vital nine years after their break up.
Up first was Harms Way, which features members of Weekend Nachos and Convicted as well as ex-members of countless Chicago hardcore mainstays and favorites. They play metal influenced hardcore that sits somewhere between Infest and Cannibal Corpse, delivered at both, break neck speed and down tempo sludge. Saturday night was no exception. I listened to their set, bobbing my head while perusing the Residue Records distro table.
Herds, from Milwaukee Wisconsin delivered a thrashy hardcore punk attack that would be most comfortable in a musty basement. Reminiscent of many of the bands coming out on No Way Records and Fashionable Idiots (who coincidentally is their label). What makes them stand out is they’re a bit noisier and unlike some of their contemporaries, their songs break from the formula of fast and loud, introducing tempo changes and breakdowns without delving into the cliched “hardcore breakdown” territory.
Filling out the middle of the bill was Chicago’s Pretentious Assholes, whose punk pedigree is as impressive as their ability to meld styles. Featuring members and ex-members of Charles Bronson, Dischrist, No Slogan and the Repos, they brought a healthy combination of crust, grind and good ol’ fashion hardcore to the show. Musically, these guys would have fit just as well on the Apocalypticrust Fest that was going on at the Black Hole that same night, but I was grateful they played this show instead. Unfortunately, there’s no link on line for this band. To find like minded bands, check out their pedigree.
Following P.A. was NYC’s Failures. The one thing I can say about the midwest, specifically the greater Chicagoland area is that the last of the real maniacs and mongoloids reside within it’s scene (and I say that with nothing but love and adoration.) As soon as Failures started, there was a mass wave of bodies ramming into one another, jumping from the stage and trying to take the mic from the singer. This is why I love punk rock. None of it was contrived or postured. There was no sense of irony to the mosh or the stage dives. It was pure and youthful; a lack of concern for your own well being. With the exception of some technical problems caused by a couple destroyed microphone cables, Failures tore through a thirty minute set in roughly twenty minutes with no pause or acknowledgment of the audience. If you’re a fan of raging, tribal, breakneck speed hardcore, be sure to check out their full length and 7”. Neither will disappoint.
Finally, ending the night was a set from one of my favorite Chicago hardcore bands, MK Ultra. At one point in the 90’s, indie rock heart throb John Vanderslice played in a band of the same name, issuing a cease and desist order on the locals, despite the fact that the audiences didn’t really overlap. MK Ultra reclaimed the name and spent their set Saturday night picking exactly where they left off in 2000. It felt as if they never lost a step and played with the same vigor and energy that they did in their “heyday.”
Unlike the 1990’s incarnation of the band, there was very little political banter between songs and was replaced with genuine appreciation for the audience attending and a call to the punk scene to start talking about issues on stage between songs. Something that was time honored in the 90’s, replaced by either apathy, or an understanding that everyone in attendance operates on the same page.
The discography is now available on two LP’s, along with a digital download coupon, on Youth Attack records.
I feel like I’m living in a really strange era of music right now. I also feel like I’m living in a really strange period in pop culture/time right now. The 80s are retro and I’m not that old, you know? I feel like so many things that happened when I was a kid are coming back around or something … basically, they are probably coming back to people who are a little older than I was then, but because I was so aware and precocious* at even 6, 8, 10 years old, it doesn’t matter. I still thought then like I do now and remember them like it was yesterday.
I was driving to a friend’s photography show a year or so ago and heard this song (I didn’t know the name) — Welcome To The Black Parade. Because of how the chorus kicked in, I knew it was a modern band that was probably popular with the kids. but as the song continued to progress, I just pulled back and heard all the guitars and whatnot, and I thought … this was our Poison, cause it was pretty metal. And what I mean by that is not “It was pretty metal,” as in fairly metal, but it was “pretty” metal, as in shiny metal. Fluffy. Wanker lite. When I was a kid, I thought that Poison and Winger and Cinderella and Warrant and all those bands were metal. They weren’t. They were pop. But I didn’t know that then. And that’s what this song is — pop. With lots of guitars and posturing.
As I continued home, I heard this song — Sweet Escape. Let me tell you. I had NO CLUE who this was. Not one single clue until I looked it up when I got home. I heard this one and I thought, this could have come straight out of 1985. Seriously. I would have been all over this song then. It would have been a Top 40 #1. I nearly fell down when I saw it was Gwen Stefani. (Sidenote: is she going to lose those harajuku girls or what?) It just seemed so unlike her. No bad girl here. Straight popalicious. Not a hard edge to be found. I guess it features Akon, but I didn’t catch any of that on the radio.
(I love that I can type “bad girl escape sweet” and “carry on marching band” into google and get the names of these two songs, and then go to you tube and find the videos.)
Then, as if i needed the 80’s deal sealed, they went into With or Without You, for an authentic 80s classic. It’s funny. There was so much different stuff on Top 40 radio back in the 80s, and the things that lasted are now our classic rock. This would be one of them, I suppose.
The whole night kicked off with hearing Johnny Mars back on the air for the first time in over five years, which was really a treat. What comes around goes around.
*To illustrate: I’ve always remembered that one of my favorite songs was Separate Lives, a song by Phil Collins with Marilyn Martin from the movie White Nights. Before you roll up with peals of hysterical laughter, let me at least tell the story. I always loved love songs and songs of romance and all that stuff. Whitney Houston, Phil Collins, Chicago featuring the lovely Peter Cetera, you name it, I was there.
But the reason I use “Separate Lives” to illustrate my point is this — “White Nights” came out in 1985. I was ELEVEN years old. Never kissed, much less had any sort of romantic relationship. Yet, I distinctly and VERY clearly remember loving that song and KNOWING what the words meant. Singing along with heartfelt emotion as Phil Collins sings: “ooh, so typical, love leads to isolation/so you build that wall (build that wall)/and you make it stronger…”
WHAT? How can an 11 yr. old comprehend that? But I loved the song and I loved the crescendos and the key change and the whole feel of it. That they were together and now apart, and how dare they look at each other like that now that they couldn’t have each other, but … maybe… someday, but for now, they’d go on living separate lives… and… CUT.
Wow. So dramatic and emotional for a pre-teen. Obviously worth pulling out the boombox to tape it on.
This originally appeared at Smussyolay in March ’07, but is still completely relevant 2 and a half years later.
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 ([url=http://www.feralward.com/home.html]http://www.feralward.com/home.html[/url]), 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.