review by Mike Turner
photos by Jonaki Sanyal
Note: This entry on Equalizer Chicago was delayed for about a week due to the overwhelming amount of SxSW awesomeness being updated live from Austin. Sorry for the inconvenience oh faithful readers. Time to get caught up on Chicago!
Ok people, this is going to be brief. As I write this I am aboard an amazing flying machine en route to Austin, Texas, home to that annual bacchanalian feeding frenzy of rock (might I say “rockanalian?”) known as South by Southwest and I don’t know how much longer my sobriety will hold out. But wait! Don’t look so crest fallen my little chickadees, for what you may miss this month from the absence of my typically rambling and diverted prose will be made up for in spades with glorious full color moving pictures and sound with interviews, fancy graphics, editing and continuity! I think they call them “talkies...” That’s right, my bitchez, we captured the whole gordita this month inside of little enchanted plastic boxes and through the magic of the internet (a complex series of tubes) we will present you with the best of it in a concise, digestible and entertaining package right here where you want it. Behold!
Did you watch it? Awesome, right!? Oh, you didn’t...? Fine, if you are some kind of nerd loser who would rather read because you smell and no one will watch Project Runway with you then keep “reading” and I’ll explain how it went down this month in Chicago via the super out dated “alphabet,” Gaaahhh! Thursday, March 6th at darkroom marked the 9th monthly Equalizer Chicago presented by KEXP and sponsored every month by The Chicago Reader and 312-unes. As usual it was far and away the best show in town and with a line up consisting of two local rock and roll favorites and a vaudevillian sonic carnival from Brooklyn NYC it was the kind of evening for which darkroom with its shadowy, burlesque ambiance has become infamous. “Eclectic” is the word I’m supposed to use here but babies, there is nothing eclectic about the hangover you get from that place. Piecing the night together the following day however, THAT could perhaps be considered an eclectic endeavor... if your name is fucking John Waters. If you’re like the rest of us though it’s more like trying to make sense out of a recent trip to Boroughs’ Interzone. Welcome to Ashley, The Lisps and Pool of Frogs created a musical bouillabaisse so pungent that it made me vomit jagged shards of bloody excitement and appreciation all over the dance floor. If that didn’t make any sense to you then you’re half way to getting it.
DJ’s Johnny Kesh and Mikey Dance Panther kicked off the evening as usual. Mikey Dance Panther had a new blazer that he was all psyched about, he still can’t DJ for shit but he still looks really good trying -- blah, blah, blah, and in the interest of time that’s all I’m going to say on that subject. Welcome to Ashley began the “real entertainment” portion of the night and brought to the stage all the swagger of the Pixies, The Smiths and Echo and The Bunnymen that you would expect from a band who routinely get compared to bands like the Pixies The Smiths and Echo and The Bunnymen by various media outlets which people seem to rely upon for that sort of thing. Coley Kennedy is a decent tambourine player. Ok...he is an excellent tambourine player and a damn fine singer if you really want to get to the meat of things. Also, his band holds it down like tent stakes in a windstorm. A WINDSTORM OF ROCK! So, you should probably go see them next time or get lapped by your favorite music news resource when they start freaking out on ‘em -- your call. I am also told that Coley has a bizarre obsession with Mikey Dance Panther’s John Fluevog boots and likes to make outrageous claims such as: ” I rocked the exact same pair before Mikey even knew they existed” but I guess his spirit eagle didn’t fit into them so he couldn’t take ‘em home or some artsy musician crap like that. I’m just warning you, the guy is a little tweaked. Apparently it almost came to a “boot off” after sound check... does anyone even know what that is? Sounds Australian...
The adorable The Lisps all the way from Brooklyn, New York, on their adorable way to SxSW were up next performing for their second time at darkroom, both times on the same adorable bill as Pool of Frogs no less. The Lisps are, um... adorable. I mean, yes the songs are great and whatever but watching them on stage is wonderfully entertaining. It’s kind of like watching a 4-person blind date set to music from a David Lynch movie. This “date” is going really well somehow even though oddly there are 4 people involved but everyone is just a little too geeky to make a move so the stage is thick with a playful sexual tension. The bands own bio even states “at any given time, at least one member is in love with at least two other members.” Mix that with alternative musical contraptions such as mellodicas and a big red filing cabinet hit with timpani mallets and you get an improvisational folk rock tapestry of awkward social narratives sung mostly by one very cute girl (Sammy Tunis) who sort of looks like a 19th century trapeze artist/flapper. P. Griffin Baron of Chicago’s briefly famed Cracklin Moth (remember them? They played EQ in September) commented to me at one point during their set: “The Lisps sound like the kind of band that would finish singing you a song and then go bake you a pie...” Not like Griff is some kind of authority on pie baking but I like quoting him because his name sounds important.
And then there was Pool of Frogs. Ahh, Pool of Frogs... what can I write about this band that I haven’t already written in this forum? I’m actually not being coy this time. 50% of this band has already played Equalizer (back in August with The Jai Alai Savant) when they were with The Great Perhaps. I think that means I need to spare William Duncan and Blake Sloan my whimsical treatment of how they inspire me emotionally from stage with their respective instrumental flair. Last time it almost sparked an all out Myspace war and I’m worried I won’t get hooked up anymore at the restaurant where they work if I keep it up with the tacky celebrity comparisons. The other 50% of this band however, sweats a rock’n'roll party from every pour! If there was ever a band that lived and died on the energy generated from an audience its Pool of Frogs. Singer/guitarist Chad Fess gives every last drop to the crowd with his performance to the point where you’re almost a little worried if he’s gonna make it. As a spectator it puts one in that unique position of focusing intently on the show and at the same time listening carefully so that you can make sure to hear the exact moment when his lung collapses... and maybe be able to quickly move out of the way should it come flying out of his mouth and smack you in the face. Well thankfully that didn’t happen on Thursday. The guys put on a great show in their typically dizzying nursery rhyme meets Celtic-bar-room-punk-rock fashion. If you’re lucky you’ll smell Pool of Frogs rolling into your town soon. Word on the street is that they are converting an old school bus into a bio-diesel fueled tour bus allowing them to gas up on grease traps nationwide and leave every city with a trail of broken hearts and the lingering scent of deep fried goodness. So, yeah that’s what I meant... I’m sure there is nothing wrong with their personal hygiene... you judgmental bastards!
|I know I always say this, but don’t miss Equalizer next month! It’s special!|
Thursday, April 3rd @ darkroom, Chicago
Needers & Givers
Mike Turner and his partners at darkroom produce KEXP’S “Equalizer Chicago” a monthly showcase of on the verge Midwestern artists. Mike has consulted in the music industry nationally for 6+ years and currently resides in Chicago as a practicing social critic and sometimes DJ.