Live Review: Equalizer Showcase, Darkroom, Chicago 5/1/2008

review by Mike Turner
photos by Ryan Sweeney

Well, kids — another Equalizer has come and gone and last week was another rock and roll circus. There is only one month to go before reaching the official one-year mark of the Midwest’s finest independent music showcase and thinking back on all of them trying to pick a favorite is like trying to decided which Olsen twin is a more horribly wretched waste of whorish carbon. I’m saying that it’s hard, people… hard and pointless. Every Equalizer is a horribly wretched waste of whorish carbon and each Olsen twin seems to somehow represent the best of Chicago’s vital and ever evolving independent music scene. How do those teen billionaires do it!? May 1st was no exception to this rule with KEXP, The Chicago Reader and bringing us Dundrearies, Otter Petter and Scale Model to fill that empty void inside us left by our recycled-plastic-on-demand, super-sized-children-of-divorce-society. The alcohol helped too I guess… oh, the glorious alcohol.

As I have been promising you inter-nerds lately, you will yet again be able to see the highlights of this Month’s Equalizer right here in magical “booze-o-vision,” so check back in about a week. It should be done fermenting by then.

So, after about an hour of self-indulgent MP3J-ing by the vaguely tolerable but always-handsome DJ Mikey Dance Panther, the evenings rocking commenced with the perfectly intoned Scale Model. I say “perfectly intoned” because this is a band that plays hand made guitars…which they made…that’s right, by hand. Seriously. Singer Meg “Rox” and guitarist/master luthier Dave Johnston are a married couple in business together making guitars called well, “Scale Model guitars” of course. And weather or not you like their band you won’t find anyone saying that they sounded out of tune. No joke, those are some fine-ass instruments this band brandishes made from exotic rain forest woods that I can’t even spell let alone pronounce. Obviously it’s worth the sweat because Scale Model sounds clear as a bell and tight as a drum (insert more musical metaphors here) and Meg’s solid, forceful voice cuts through the very big sound they spill from stage in a way that brings to mind a punked up Grace Slick. This months Equalizer actually doubled as the release party for Scale Model’s brand new EP “The World Is Falling” so, of course darkroom cut open the ceremonial goat hanging in front of the stage and we all danced in it’s blood. What? Oh… that’s just a Chicago thing I guess. Whatever — don’t act so superior.

After the goat entrails were disposed of in the traditional manner of setting them on fire in the smoldering pit of rock’s eternal flame, the two foot thick remote control limestone doors at the foot of the stage slid shut with a slow groan and the crowd gathered over them for the next set by Otter Petter.

Seriously, you guys, WHAT!? It’s really not that shocking. It’s just a thing we do out here to pay homage to the gods of rock…I’m sure you have your own odd ways of worshiping them. A little tolerance, please! Can we get on with this now? Thank you!

Otter Petter is an irresistibly catchy five-piece pop band that evokes a less maudlin Death Cab for Cutie or perhaps a more shimmery and accessible The Rentals via their synth inflected hooks and harmonies. With a string of EP’s already under their belt, and a band name that I’ve always hopped is an innuendo but never had the marbles to ask about; Otter Petter is on the verge of releasing their first full-length album sometime this year. The band blasted through a spot on set of sugary danceable grooves last week that kept their substantial crowd squealing, shouting and moving. Yes, there was squealing. Some of that squealing may have come from me however. Ok, a lot of it was from me. It was probably anytime Jo Jo (A.K.A. Jobot the love robot) their very foxy keyboard player started singing… so I have a loud squeal, sue me.

A bittersweet end cap to a typically awesome evening of independent rock n’ roll at Equalizer was the quite literally final performance by much loved local band Dundrearies. After a number of years in the trenches, the guys have finally decided to part ways to explore new projects and they chose Equalizer to be the forum for their swan song. Luckily for those in attendance last week Dundrearies pounded through 40 minutes of high-energy melodic guitar rock like it was the last time any of them would ever see a stage. Chris Carroll is a magnetic front man and vocalist who summons a light-hearted but potent swagger that lies somewhere between Gregg Alexander of The New Radicals (don’t pretend like you don’t have that single) and Fran Healy of Travis. Dundrearies manage to sound somehow distinctly American and distinctly British at the same time, I don’t know how that’s possible but it seems to be a best of both worlds scenario because they pull it off. Guitarist Jeremy Spanos is exhausting to watch as he turns his performance into a work out routine by jogging in place for a good chunk of each song. My God, man! Isn’t it fatiguing enough to kick out the jams under those hot lights for close to an hour? Do you really have to go that far to make me feel out of shape!? I had to take a beer break in between each song because I was losing too many calories just by watching.

“Disappearing Ink” from the Dundrearies E.P. Valentines and Sedition was my favorite song of the night for sure and it made me a little sad that this band is breaking up. Go to their MySpace page and listen to it right now! It totally scratches that itch for mid 90’s post-grunge-round-2-British-invasion pop along the lines of Blur. If that song had made it onto a sound track of a movie like Road Trip or Just Friends, these guys would be famous right now.

Coming up for the next Equalizer, June 5th:

  • Two Loons for Tea
  • Silences Sumire (CD release party!)
  • Seiling (featuring DJ Joe Phillips)
  • The Western Front
  • As always, resident DJ’s Johnny Kesh and Mikey Dance Panther

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.

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