Photos from the Do Division Festival on Saturday, June 2.
Photos from the Do Division Festival on Saturday, June 2.
The album-release party for Outer Minds on Saturday at the Empty Bottle was more like a party for a whole scene of bands who are apparently pals with Outer Minds. With their electric 12-string guitar riffs, Farfisa organ, stomping beats and flower-children mix of male and female vocals, Outer Minds played melodic psychedelic rock that sounded like it was from another era. Then again, I long ago got used to the idea of previous musical eras co-existing in the present. I overheard someone in the crowd saying he felt like he’d traveled in a time machine — presumably to the 1960s, since that’s what it sounded like. Outer Minds’ self-titled debut LP is available from Southpaw Records.
The opening acts were a blockbuster billing of cool Chicago bands: Summer Girlfriends played fun Girl Group music of the sort you’d expect from their name. Radar Eyes were even fiercer than they were a couple of weeks ago at their own record-release party. And Mannequin Men played one hard-edged brand-new song amid a strong set of their best and catchiest tunes. Taken altogether, it was a great sampler of some of the exciting music happening in Chicago today.
The two Chicago bands playing at the Hideout Saturday night have been around for a few years, but they’ve both just released self-titled records. Does putting out a self-titled record imply that this is the one that defines your sound? Maybe, maybe not. But for both of these bands, Mannequin Men and Vee Dee, these 2011 albums are good starting points for anyone who wants to get familiar with what they’re doing. And both bands rocked pretty hard on Saturday night. Vee Dee’s label, BLVD, describes its music as “scuzz rock.” There’s a good amount of riffing ’70s hard rock, verging on heavy metal, in this trio’s sound, mixed up with garage, punk, glam and, yeah, scuzz.
The Mannequin Men have been playing catchy garage rock (or post-punk or what have you) with deliciously sneering vocals over the course of three albums now, and the new self-titled one is their best set of melodies and riffs so far. There’s even a touch of wistfulness amid the bratty snarling — just a touch. Singer-guitarist Kevin Richard sings lead on most of the songs, but the band’s secret weapon is drummer Seth Bohn, who handled the main vocals on a few of the best tunes Saturday night. The guys sounded loose but never sloppy (it’s a fine line), nailing the riffs when they needed to be nailed.
The Clean came to Chicago for the first time in some years on Thursday (Sept. 30), playing at the Bottom Lounge. The New Zealand post-punk trio has been making music since 1978 (with some time off now and then along the way). This was the first time I’d ever seen them, and it was a pretty cool experience. When the band switched from guitar to keyboards, the artsier side of its music came out. But the final stretch was more poppy and melodic.
Guitarist David Kilgour left the stage rather abruptly at the end of the main set and then again at the end of the first encore, almost seeming to surprising his band mates, drummer Hamish Kilgour and bassist Robert Scott. It seemed that the band was calling it a night at that point and the Bottom Lounge turned on the house music. But the audience wasn’t ready to leave, giving the Clean a loud and sustained round of applause, and finally the guys came back and played one of their best-known tunes, “Tally Ho!”
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THE CLEAN’S SET LIST
The show started out with an energetic set by Chicago’s Mannequin Men, including a whole bunch of new songs. A new album must be in the works — or should be, in any case. www.myspace.com/mannequinmen
PHOTOS OF MANNEQUIN MEN
The show on Friday (July 10) at Metro was a record-release party for Mannequin Men, but the garage-y Chicago quartet made the night seem more like a four-band celebration of the joys of three-chord rock. Mannequin Men were on the bill with three other groups of similar sensibility. All in all, it was quite an enjoyable series of simple but raucous guitar riffs, thumping bass notes and drumbeats, topped off with sneering vocals.
The three youngsters in Chicago’s Stranger Waves got the evening off to a roaring start with a solid set. These guys are only 17 years old? They sure know how to play their instruments already, and their songwriting chops aren’t bad, either. www.myspace.com/thestrangerwaves
Up next was the only band of the night from somewhere other than Chicago, the Puerto Rican group Davila 666. Whereas Stranger Waves sounded tight, these fellows were very loose, almost like they were jamming at a party rather than performing a concert, but the music was very much in the same garage-rock spirit. A couple of the songs sounded suspiciously similar to recognizable hits of the genre — was that one tune a Spanish translation of “Teenage Kicks” or just a very close-sounding song? Well, I guess there’s only so much you can do with three chords, right? www.myspace.com/davila666
The third band, Thomas Function, did not make as much of an impression on me as the rest of the lineup Friday night, but they were reasonably enjoyable, too. (Looking at my photos of the band, I’m wondering: Gee, was the lighting that strange … or did I do something weird with the settings on my camera? Lots of interesting shadows.) www.myspace.com/thomasfunction
Then it was time for the headliners, Chicago’s own Mannequin Men. As I mentioned recently after seeing them play a late show at the Empty Bottle, they really do seem like one of the best live acts in the city these days. However, they still don’t seem to have a large enough following to headline the Metro on a Friday night. The place was not embarrassingly empty by any stretch of the imagination, but there was a lot more room to move around on the main floor than I’m used to seeing. Maybe this band needs more time to build the buzz that it deserves. During the set, lead singer Kevin Richard jokingly offered some tips for other bands, including: Don’t put yourself on a bill with other bands that are better than yours. Well, that’s not true… No reason for an inferiority complex, dude. He also commented about being drunk, which did seem to be true. Mannequin Men sounded good as they ripped through some great songs from their new CD, Lose Your Illusion, Too, and the previous record, Fresh Rot, with lots of classically snotty punk-rock attitude. The band got a small group of fans onstage to sing along on one song, then halfheartedly came out for an encore… By that point, Richard’s guitar was broken, and by the very end, he wasn’t even on the stage. It was a sloppy, disheveled ending to the concert. Not that that’s really a bad thing. Hey, this is garage rock, right? www.myspace.com/mannequinmen
Steve Krakow, a.k.a. Plastic Crimewave Sound, may be the leading impresario of underground rock music in Chicago — a musician in a few bands, the writer and artist behind the comic strip “The Secret History of Chicago Music,” the creator/editor of the hand-drawn magazine Galactic Zoo Dossier, and curator of the occasional festivals and concerts bearing the banner Million Tongues. The Million Tongue series returned last Wednesday (March 25) for a showcase of experimental music and garage rock at the Empty Bottle.
I should have shown up earlier, because I really liked what I heard from the band Cave as I walked in near the end of their set. The next band, a French act called Gunslingers, did some sort of noisy biker rock, which I enjoyed whenever it started to cook like a Velvet Underground jam. I didn’t really get what the legendary noise-rock artist Michael Yonkers was all about. His heavily processed guitar solos seemed mostly like random sound to me, but when Plastic Crimewave Sound joined him onstage, the music they played together sounded more like rock songs and it started to click with me a little bit.
Over on the side stage in between the main acts, we heard short sets from Ray Donato (seemed like a lot of noise to me) and Bicycle Tricycle, who played some nicely distorted songs that sounded something like “Nuggets”-era psychedelic folk rock played at the wrong volume.
Mannequin Men, who were recently mentioned on the Entertainment Weekly Web site as a band to watch, charged through some of their great punk/garage rock at the end of the night, but I was still recovering from SXSW and feeling sleepy. Did not make it through all of their set, though what I heard this time was enough to confirm my opinion that these guys are one of the better young bands in Chicago right now.