Friday, September 30, 2011

Concert Review - Fucked Up/Wavves At Logan Square Auditorium, September 30, 2011

It was windy last night as I was walking to the Logan Square Auditorium. And I mean windy. As I strolled past the turn of the century two-stories north of Fullerton, I could hear the leaves constant rustling as background noise that reminded me of the recently-departed cicadas but sounded more like the wash of surf crashing far away. It was the first time I'd had the headspace to really notice the end of summer and beginning of the chilly onslaught that is Chicago from October through April.

After arriving and getting my ticket torn, I was given the most thorough pat-down I've recieved since forgetting to remove hair gel from my suitcase before going to O'Hare, which made me smile. Cleary the Empty Bottle and the show's other promoters were taking no chances with a hardcore crowd.

I arrived about twenty-five minutes early and used the opportunity to do some crowd-watching and see who exactly shows up for a Canadian hardcore/stoner surf-punk show these days. Early-arrivers varied in age from late 30's to kids who couldn't have been over 16. I saw t-shirts for Pink Floyd, Smoking Popes, Nirvana and, from those too naïve to realize they were violating custom, Wavves and Fucked Up. I especially enjoyed a safety-pinned jacket on a high-schooler with an imprssive purple mohawk featuring the words "G.G. Allin" scrawled in magic marker with an Anarchy sign for the "a". A buddy of mine showed up just before the first opener hit the stage and we joked good-naturedly about the crowd as we waited for the band to setup. Our first sign that the night would be interesting was when the guy in denim jacket and (I shit you not) maroon beret who we'd noticed earlier joined the first band on stage.

That band was called Culo and, were one to judge from their heavily stylized t-shirts at the merch table and prime slot, they seemed to be a going punk concern. Judging from their looks though, they were a bunch of high school juniors who'd just picked up guitars and a Black Flag record a few months ago.

I loved Culo though. Not necessarily for how they sounded but for what they represented. The band was our pretentious beret'ed singer from earlier, backed by two guitarists and a drummer. The guitars weren't so much lo-fi as no-fi, drenched in feedback and burnt-out shards of chords. The songs were three-chord rockers that featured untilligable lyrics, a lot of noise that was close enough to music to function and I guess some drumming. None lasted more than 2:00. The band was clearly nervous, as the lead singer shifted from an angry Sid Vicious persona to that of the nice guy next door. One minute he was kicking the high schoolers slam-dancing in the front row and calling the audience "fuckers who have never even read the Communist Manifesto" and the next he was thanking the audience for coming out early.

It was as if the band couldn't decide if they were late 70's nihilists or 21st century self-aware actors playing the part. This all made perfect sense to me because I remember being seventeen and being good enough at something to seem cool, but not good or self-confident enough to actually pull off what I was aiming for. I would've drenched myself in noise and righteous anger too. I could see in the faces of their mohawked fans that same anger that drives you to look and act and be different than everyone around you. I admit that when I was in high school I was probably the guy befriending the pretentious asshole who quoted Marx. At one point my friend leaned over to me and sarcastically asked "who bought the lead singer a beer?" as the boys chugged their stolen PBR's - it was note-perfect. 

Culo did inspire the younger of the all-ages set to engage in some enthusiastic slam-dancing and seemed to grow in musical confidence throughout the set. By the end the sarcastic clapping from the older members of the audience had even shifted to genuine applause. After the set I headed immediately to the bathroom where I was in front of one of the angriest slam-dancers from the first set. He glared at me the entire time but waited patiently in line behind me for the sink as I soaped and washed my hands.

Wavves was up next and I was looking forward to their set with reservations. I'd always avoided Nathan Williams' band, not because I thought they'd be bad but because my time and capacity to hear music is finite and Wavves seemed to be filling a niche that I already had covered. However I told myself to try to catch them live if I ever had the chance because they were sure to fun - I was not wrong.

My friend told me that Williams had raided Jay Reatard's old band for the latest incarnation of Wavves and that pounding, melodic indie sensibility was apparent throughout their set. If Culo was at the beginning of their punk life-cycle then Wavves was in the middle. They were the cooler older brother who went to college, smoked a bunch of weed and learned to appreciate melody and texture to go with their anger and volume. The set flew by with energy and hooks to spare (although I swear that I heard the same "ooh-ooh" backing vocals and "We're A Happy Family"-guitar riff at least three or four times). Indeed, the only song that differentiated itself enough to sick in my head was sure-to-be-indie-favorite "I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl".

The high school kids were just as excited for Wavves as Culo and the mosh pit got larger and more violent throughout the set until the crowd spilled onstage during the last song. The band was clearly overwhelmed by the crowd and both guitarists got their cords pulled out during the commotion before two bouncers gently cleared the stage. Despite the glitches, Wavves played on and was able to resuccitate the song after being down to just bass and drums for a rousing last run-through, it was definitely impressive stage presence for a young band.

After Wavves however, there was a mass exodus to the bathroom as many of the young folks headed out and the more bearded crowd headed down for Fucked Up. I was a relative newcomer to the band, only fully committing after hearing this year's amazing David Comes To Life, which I've been more or less playing the living tar out of for months now. It's the story of finding love in the dying embers of 21st century North American capitalism that trades thrashy hardcore for a more nuanced, layered feel that I'm sure appeals more to people in their mid-twenties and beyond than those in their late teens. It was as if Fucked Up was the final chapter in the punk saga of the evening - the former hardcore band made good. They'd had kids, expanded their sound and gotten some mainstream recognition but never lost that spark of anger and self-determination that got them into punk in the first place.

Fucked Up's show was everything you'd expect from such veterans. There was moshing, shirtless crowd-surfing and sweaty enthusiasm left and right. Songs from the new album sounded larger-than-life but no less catchy in their live incarnation and lead singer Damian Abraham was a masterful as crowd director, sharing the mic with fans, jumping in and picking up audience members à la a WWE wrestler and otherwise keeping interesting but safe in a way I'm sure Ian McKaye would appreciate. I was amazed at how effectively the band was able to operate independently from the singing as Abraham, who would wind his way through the audience while the rest of Fucked Up managed to do their best impersonation of "Won't Get Fooled Again's" synths with guitar feedback. 

Sandy Miranda's soft backing vocals on songs like "Queen of Hearts" still sounded great live and added heart to show. As the set went on I couldn't help but get swept away in the wall of guitars and energy, not be jolted out of my revelry until Abraham announced that there were three songs left. During those last songs there was impressive crowd surfing by the flabbily-titted lead singer, audience stage-dives and the even the chance for an audience member to play guitar on the final encore (props to "Matt", you held your own).

The show ended promptly at 10:30 and I headed into the night which had somehow turned even windier while adding horizontal rain. It seemed as if the weather had been listening to the show and decided to try its own interpretation on the maelstrom that is punk rock. I felt revitalized as I walked into the blowing wetness, having just tapped into the live wire that is the punk scene. I remember that when I was in high school that punk opened my eyes, challenged me to be better and to ask questions of everyone I met. That desire for a better world and not just anger at injustice but energy to do something about it is still a constant force in my life. Right up there next to coffee, punk rock is one of those things that keeps me going many days, on Thursday night I shared a big old mug with hundreds of people. Now I'm gonna be up for days.


I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl - Wavves  Buy Life Sux [EP].
The Other Shoe - Fucked Up  Buy David Comes To Life.
Queen Of Hearts -  Fucked Up

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