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.

The Vaselines and the 1900s at Metro

The odds are, if you’ve heard of the Vaselines, it’s because Nirvana covered a few of their songs. This Scottish band recorded just one LP and some singles in the late ’80s, broke up, then briefly reformed to open for their fans in Nirvana. They haven’t played together since the early ’90s, and they’d never played a concert in Chicago (for the Midwest, for that matter) until last night (May 16) at Metro. The occasion for their current tour is an excellent new collection of their old songs, Enter the Vaselines, issued this year by Sub Pop. As one of the band’s two singer-guitarists, Frances McKee, noted, it’s an “old-new CD.”

The group is essentially the duo of McKee and Eugene Kelly, though for this show they were backed up by three musicians on loan from other Scottish groups: guitarist Stevie Jackson and bassist Bob Kildea (both from Belle and Sebastian) and drummer Michael McGaughrin (from the 1990s). They were, as McKee joked, “the professionals in this outfit.”

Despite being away for so many years, the Vaselines sounded so fresh. Their songs have some of that Velvet Underground and post-punk feel, but there’s also a sweet pop side to what they do. That attitude also came through in their hilarious stage banter. Well, McKee was hilarious in any case, making bitterly funny remarks about her erstwhile romantic partner, Kelly, who played the part of the straight man in this routine. When Kelly introduced one song by saying, “This is a love song,” she interjected with a smile, “Not any more.” She also accused him of wearing “grumpy pants,” and when audience members called out that they loved Kelly, she tartly noted, “You obviously don’t know him.” After another song, she said, “There’s a message in that song: If you take too many drugs, you’ll end up like Eugene.” She delivered all this verbal abuse with a wry sense of humor (maybe that Scottish accent helps), and he stood there and took it with a slightly chagrined look.

If they still had any actual bitter feelings between them, it didn’t stop them from performing top-notch versions of their old songs, including of course highlights like “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” which Nirvana fans know so well from the MTV Unplugged album. And the Vaselines even played a couple of new songs (one of which was identified simply as “new new song” on the set list), which sounded almost as good as the oldies. Let’s hope we hear more from the Vaselines soon.

To read more about the Vaselines, see the Sub Pop site.
Photos of the Vaselines.

The opening act was one of my local favorites, the 1900s (not to be confused with the aforementioned Scottish group, the 1990s). They’ve had a couple of members leave the band over the last year, but they had a new drummer and keyboard player in place for last night’s gig, and they also played a few new songs, which sounded promising. I eagerly await their next record.
Photos of the 1900s.