Mannequin Men at Metro

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.

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?

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.)

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?

Photos of the Mannequin Men, Stranger Waves, Davila 666 and Thomas Function.

Million Tongues

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.

Photos from a Million Tongues event.