Arks live at Darkroom, Chicago, Equalizer Showcase
photos by Heather Stumpf
Well, folks, it’s officially winter here in Chicago. For about two weeks now just like we do every year, the citizens of this cruel moon have been sitting in shock consoling themselves with drawn shades and bottles of hooch whimpering things like “why?” and “it’s just not right.” With no warning, an icy Chicago blitzkrieg of “fucking freezing” clad in a frosted baby blue uni-tard and luchadore mask emblazoned with little red stars bodyslammed the shit out of the long toothed summer and stole the title in what seemed like mere moments — especially after our yawn-fest of a fall. The match seemed over before it began as we shuffled past Thanksgiving oblivious to our impending smack down in short sleeved shirts and sunglasses lulled docile by a milktoast November. Thanks a lot for the mat burns Chicago, real classy — I totally didn’t even have my headgear on yet. It’s safe to say that everyone is awake now. I know I said there was no warning but really, who are we kidding? This is Chicago; it does this to us every damn year at some point and even takes our lunch money yet we still live here. I am starting to think that there is some sort of biological painful seasonal memory inhibitor at play in the DNA of Midwesterners or nobody would live in this place. You know, like childbirth — why would anyone want to do that again?
The reason I am making such a big deal out of this climate thing is because I feel that some congratulations are in order. Last Thursday’s Dec 6th Equalizer was slammed! I couldn’t believe how many stoked out rock fans motivated to fight the snow and the cold and get out to Darkroom to see Highwheel Records present Bang Bang, Arks, and Walking Bicycles. Therefore, unless everyone in attendance had their heat go out at the same time and all of them had an uncanny idea to wait it out at Darkroom then I will say to all of them this: well played KEXP fans, well played indeed!
Not to take anything away from the fortitude of Chicago’s music patrons but the December Equalizer did have one heck of a lot of incentive to show up. Let it never be said that Equalizer doesn’t love the holidays. In the true spirit of celebrating the immaculate and beautiful birth of our energetic little baby lord and savior known as Consumerism, Highwheel Records not only showcased some of their finest artists but they gave out a gift bag full of free shit to the first one hundred people through the door. Hell yeah, it’s Christmas! Inside the coveted bags were three 180 gram vinyl records, one from each artist performing that night plus one Arks The International CD and an assortment of kick ass buttons and stickers all contained in a hand made High Wheel Records tote bag good for all of your toting needs. When you match Highwheel’s give away with the usual KEXP and sponsors Goose Island/312unes.com and Chicago Reader stuff this December’s Equalizer became a swag fest to behold.
Highwheel Records founders Walking Bicycles kicked off the show with a searing set of garagey post punk music a la Pixies, My Bloody Valentine and even a hint of Devo here and there that would set the tone for the rest of the evening. The smoldering but precise vocal delivery of Jocelyn Summers and the angular assault of guitarist Julius Moriarty leapt and slashed around the glacially marching low frequency bedrock of drummer Johnny M and bass player Jason Leather and within no time the floor was swarmed with a jubilant mass of sweaty rockers. Spin magazine was right on the money when they called Walking Bicycles “Dynamic and genre defying.”
Up next was Arks, a staple and a highlight of the Highwheel catalogue but on this occasion their performance was a swan song for a band that is splitting into new directions. It was clear that there was a tremendous amount of support in the house for Arks in their final moments at Darkroom and they delivered a show packed with every ounce of their collective energy. It was a thunderous set that seemed intended to leave an impression in the ether of rock ‘n’ roll shaped like Arks for the ages. Arks were honed and incisive in their attack and Paul Hornschemeier’s insistent but steady voice sliced through the band’s controlled frenzy with a mixture of David Byrne and Mission of Burma’s Roger Miller. It was a triumphant performance for a band that had deservedly garnered a great deal of local acclaim over the years. Darkroom responded with a mixture of enthusiasm and sadness at the loss of one of the scene’s best.
After resident groove purveyors DJ Johnny Kesh and Mikey Dance Panther flexed their respective crate digging abilities for a while (and by crate digging I mean i-tunes downloading) it was time nearly time for the main event. With his splotchy new attempt at facial hair and rainbow colored knit cap complete with pom-pom, Mikey Dance Panther took the stage glowing like a beacon for confused and closeted hipsters everywhere to introduce the venerable Bang Bang. One darkroom patron was over heard commenting: “I heard that Mikey Dance Panther received a letter from the government telling him that he was too beautiful and that he would be fined if he didn’t take steps to correct… I guess that’s what the shitty beard is all about.” As of the present no one has been able to confirm or deny that claim but damn it if that Mikey Dance Panther isn’t one beautiful bastard!
Bang Bang got straight to the point as they tore the lid off of their opening number and they continued at that pace straight through to the end. Greta Fine and Jack Flash are absolute dynamos on stage feeding off of each other in an orgiastic point and counter point brawl of sexual energy. Greta looks and sounds like a punk rock forest pixie with a similar appetite for mischief and innocently guiltless destruction. You know how those forest pixies are… Likewise Jack, with his signature lighting bolt tie (available for purchase on the band’s website incidentally), is nearly as electrifying, ricocheting from atop his amplifier to various parts of the stage all without missing a note. Bang Bang drew a little from all four of their praise worthy releases but quite a bit of it was pulled from their most recent effort The Dirt That Makes You Drown and each tune was a pure dance punk epiphany. Windows were fogged and steam was escaping from the cracks of the building by the time Bang Bang concluded. The audience was sweaty and tired but simply didn’t want to quit as the band exited the stage to peels of hoots and cheers. You know how when you give an eight year old a couple shots of espresso just to see what happens and he flips out for about an hour before crashing? Just at that point when the kid is totally wiped out and his limbs feel like rubber but the caffeine hasn’t yet completely left the little buggers system he starts flopping around on the carpet breathing hard and sort of whining because everything feels so weird, right? Well, that’s what the folks at darkroom reminded me of after Bang Bang finished. What… you’ve never done that to a kid? Oh.
Mike Turner has been a consultant in the music industry not only in Seattle and Chicago but nationally for 6+ years. Mike developed the Equalizer Chicago showcase for KEXP in June of 2007 and produces it each month with help from his partners at darkroom. He currently resides in Chicago as a practicing media gadfly, social critic and sometimes DJ.