KEXP Presents: Equalizer Showcase, Darkroom, Chicago 9/6/07

OMFG! LOL! WTF!? LMFAO! HFS! All of these and many more were the abbreviated digital communiqués that flew about the darkroom and cellu-space at large like ricocheting BB’s shot from the hand of a pernicious child this past Thursday night. Did something onerous or alarming happen you ask? Something hysterically uproarious and unexpected perhaps? No! It’s just that for the last three months KEXP has presented Equalizer at darkroom along with the help of The Chicago Reader and right out of the gate it was fantastic but it somehow just keeps getting more and more kick-ass. I suppose folks just kind of reached a point in August where they were like “ok this is about as much radness as we can handle and certainly more than we could reasonably expect from a small venue music showcase — it’s got to be all downhill from here.” But oh no, then they go and put together a line up for last Thursday’s 4th monthly Equalizer with the likes of Cracklin Moth, Probably Vampires, and Tenniscourts as well as bringing on (the coolest new local music promoter in the city) as a sponsor, and if that weren’t enough they start handing out the brand spankin’ new Live at KEXP Volume Three in-studio compilation CDs like freaking dime store candy! I think people just sort of lost it you know? And with all of this “teck-mology” now in the hands of children, children I tell you! Oh, Lord won’t you at least think of the children!? It was only a matter of time before they would create their own brutish language consisting of all capital letters and strange punctuation capable of expressing only the most animalistic exclamations. Sigh… And what of the internet? Have you heard? It’s everywhere now! Influencing young minds, exposing Brittney’s vagina, allowing music lovers to instantly share photos and video of their concert experiences with each other via and Veeker from their mobile phones. Their phones! What is next? Flying cars!? Female voters!? I think what really popped the old blood brain barrier on Thursday however, was the announcement of not only October’s Equalizer line-up but also the coinciding KEXP listener appreciation party/catered VIP reception complete with KEXP rock star DJ’s John Richards and Cheryl Waters. Right here. In Chicago. At darkroom. Yeah, OMG is right! I think I may have lost the frequency that girls squeal at that night…John is pretty dreamy though. But it made me wonder, is this just too much? Has KEXP finally gone too far? Will the kids really be alright or will darkroom spontaneously combust with the collective frenzy of 300 agitated hipsters all rubbing their skinny jeans together like a horny swarm of cicadas in a cacophonous explosion of rock fueled hormonal self destruction? I suppose we won’t really know until October.


Ok then, my apologies for the digression but things are really snowballing here and I needed to vent. Obviously this month’s Equalizer was out of hand amazing. Apparently it was even amazing enough for Mikey Dance Panther to show up on time for once because he and DJ Johnny Kesh had the beatz (note the DJ spelling) bumping at 9pm sharp and they rocked jams specifically selected from artists featured on KEXP’s three in studio compilations in celebration of the release of Volume Three. When it came time for rocking by the professionals however, Tenniscourts were first to take the stage. Drawing material from their debut self titled 11 song LP, Tenniscourts put fourth a tight set of sparkly and clever power pop with an artful delivery and thought provoking lyrics true to their Brit pop and post punk influences. Singer/guitarist Wes Hollywood (what a name!) seems to have a knack for the perfect turn of phrase in that uncanny Elvis Costello kind of way and um… I don’t mean this in a bad way at all but he even sort of looks like him. Maybe it was the glasses and I just want him to look like Elvis Costello. I don’t know… take that with a grain of salt, or better yet go see them next time and let me know if I’m an idiot.


Pushing the power pop theme to its wacky and very danceable end, Probably Vampires were next. I must say that PV were the perfect band to advance the night following Tenniscourts somewhat more cerebral (please don’t read dour) interpretation of the genre. PV obviously share plenty of influences with Tenniscourts like The Zombies or The Jam, or even Costello for that matter, but as evidenced by the name alone they inject a healthy and welcome dose of humor and goofiness into their well orchestrated hook driven indie pop. Can I pause here for a moment and ruminate aloud about band names? Is “vampire” the new “wolf”? I think it may be… much like “horse” was the new “pony” not so long ago. Of course we all know that “unicorn” is the new “pirate” but that is a whole other issue. I’m still hung up on “Fuck Yeah!” being the new apathy. Anyway, apart from PV’s really fun songs accented by their dervish like stage show I was probably most impressed by Dan Smart’s keyboard virtuosity. That guy can really play! And not just one keyboard but two –maybe three (I don’t know I was a little drunk) at the same time all while seriously freaking out to the point that I thought all of his gear was about to flip off the stage into the crowd at any moment. He didn’t miss a note though and he was executing some fairly technical runs. Probably Vampires have garnered quite a bit of regional buzz of late touring tirelessly in support of their two EPs Dang (2006) and the soon to be released Sons of Guns and opening for the likes of Harvey Danger, Pattern is Movement and Phantom Planet. Speaking as someone who previously only knew of the band by reputation PV definitely gained a new fan. As their final notes resonated throughout the darkroom’s sepulchered gloom I was on my way to the side of the stage to congratulate singer Matt Ostrowski on a great set and force him to look into the Victorian hand mirror I’d stolen from Mikey Dance Panther, but like the last remnants of Count Chocula in a bowl of milk I looked up, and they had vanished!

I was a little un-nerved by this but apparently the audience had been entranced by the hypnotically groove pumping tunes and they failed to disperse as they usually would to refresh their drinks and discuss the previous band etc. Instead they stood by the stage vacantly swaying and silent, all with expressionless gazes fixed somewhere off in the murky distance. So spellbound were they by those mysterious, potentially undead gypsies that they even stayed in place as Mikey Dance Panther stumbled down from the DJ booth and arrogantly sashayed across the stage to give another round of thanks and praise to artists, sponsors and himself as well as raffling off a few more Live at KEXP Volume Three discs. Typically he would be ignored but this time it was different. It very well could have been that an ancient black magic held the darkroom in place but it is equally likely that anticipation for the luminous Cracklin Moth was so great that no one wanted to risk missing even a second. Indeed, the rise to local prominence for Cracklin Moth has been meteoric, eliciting rave reviews from even the viciously fickle Darth Vader of music critics himself, The Sun Times’ own Jim DeRogatis and causing lines around the block for their lately frequent live shows. Cracklin Moth is without a doubt an example of Chicago’s most accomplished players creating a caliber of music for which this city is increasingly becoming known. Matt Ammerman (songwriter), Sean Rios (drums), Rocco Labriola (Guitar) and noted session bassist and the man with the most dignified sounding name in Chicago show-biz P. Griffin Baron form the core of Cracklin Moth with Dan Lindsay and Drew Moulder providing keys and pedal steel. So, with an unusually captive audience Mikey Dance Panther began to hype the band by revealing that they had all been up since 5am that morning taping a segment on WGN morning news viewed by millions of Chicagoans, etc, etc, but of course this somehow deteriorated into a strange and tense exchange with P. Griffon Baron regarding a supposed rumor that his exceptional talents with the “thunder stick” came from his “magical elephant sized testicles” and whether Mikey did or did not have intimate knowledge of this as fact. Yeah, awkward — but it didn’t last too long because at that moment the dozen or so apple-tini’s he had consumed must have caught up with him and Mikey Dance Panther hit the deck like a slutty carpenter. The room breathed a harmonious sigh of relief and Cracklin Moth wasted no time in jumping directly into their stellar set. Matt Ammerman used Mikey’s unconscious body as a foot rest for the rest of the evening… I think he may have kicked him a few times too. It was a dynamic but enthusiastically accepted change in entertainment for September’s Equalizer as Cracklin Moth instantly switched the vibe from dancey power pop to twangy Americana, but don’t think for a moment that toes stopped tapping — this is a band that can set a mood and make you feel it with each song. I guarantee that the amount of brown liquor being poured at darkroom had doubled by the end of their set as the audience pondered mamma, trains, their pick-up truck, the dog, and bein’ drunk.

And so it went for the 4th monthly Equalizer presented by KEXP, it was a hell of a show but next month just might jump the shark. IT’S A FRIGGIN’ FREE SHOW!!

Thursday Oct. 4th KEXP listener appreciation party:
Scotland Yard Gospel Choir
Mason Proper

Stay tuned, kiddos!

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