Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Concert Review - Radar Eyes (w/Outer Minds & Bare Mutants) at The Empty Bottle, February 7th 2012

Chicago felt cold and desolate last night. A barren, winter Monday with nobody on the streets - it reminded me of nothing so much as my first February evening in Poland, with a sense of gloomy Slavic dread hanging in the air. Then again, that might just have been the Polish deli's on Western rubbing off on me as hustled from my car into the welcoming womb of the Empty Bottle

I had high hopes for the evening which were immediately vindicated as I waltzed in the door without paying. The show was part of the Bottle's glorious free Mondays series and tonight we'd be treated to three of Chicago's fastest rising bands, all courtesy of local noise-pop label Hozac Records. It was the record release party for Radar Eyes' self-titled debut full-length and it seemed like the whole Chicago indie scene (or at least those not seeing Jeff Mangum) was out and ready to party.

First up was Outer Minds, who set the tone for the evening. Like their mates on the bill, they were a four-piece with guitar, bass, drums and keys as well as a tambourined backing vocalist and they played loose, garagey throwback pop. They specialized in channeling the spirit of late 60's west coast pop, with maybe just a hint of the British invasion and they got the party going with a bang. Their lead guitarist sported a twelve-string guitar which lent the chord-heavy songs an appealing twinkle. Outer Minds basically did one thing - short, fast, loud, fun songs but boy did they do it well. I only caught snippets of vocals over the propulsive guitar and keys but the feeling of the songs spoke for themselves. There was a surf song, a pop singalong and may fifteen seconds of soloing, tops. Although they never ended up actually breaking into "White Room" as I kept expecting, they aquitted themselves admirably in the opening slot, something they're becoming accustomed to at the Bottle.

Bare Mutants
Up next were Bare Mutants, who I admit, I failed to do my homework on before the show. I was skeptical as they began their set. I'd assumed they weren't don't setting up as each band member seemed to have left the chair they used to set up their gear on the stage, their monitors were scattered at odd places and the stage was a veritable rats' nest of cords and power outlets. Beyond that, they'd brought two smoke machines which gave the whole setup the ramshackle impression of Nick Andopolis' basement.

Had I done my research, however, I would have known that Bare Mutants were a veritable Chicago supergroup featuring members of, among other bands, the the Ponys, the 1900's and Mannequin Men. Halfway through their first song "I Suck At Life", I was fully convinced that looks had deceived me. Like Outer Minds, this was another four piece 60's project, only this one was more focused on graceful, nocturnal pop of the mid-period Velvet Underground. The mix was much clearer with each piece coming through distinctly. In fact, it was clear enough to show off the soft but impressive tambourine work and backing vocals from the charming Jeanine O'Toole. Most songs were bathed in a gorgeous wash of organ which guitarist Jered Gummere accented with an array effects pedals and machines that lent it any number of textures. As on the Velvets' self-titled album, songs veered from quiet laments to guitar workups, with morose post-breakup lyrics about drinking wine and being alone. There was even a Moe Tucker-esque romp featuring Jeanine on lead vocals to complete the homage. It was the type of performance where you make up your mind after the third song that you're gonna buy their record after the show because you need to bring this home.

As the floor filled even more heavily in anticipation of the headliners, I noted that I was perhaps the only person near the front without a professional camera - it was that kind of atmosphere. I confirmed this talking to a Time Out Chicago reporter (not bad press for a free Monday night show) and noticed Chicago's favorite Animal impersonator, Francis White and his sister Alex aka White Mystery. There was a definite buzz in the air along with the sense that this was a scene that's blossoming before our eyes. Besides the bands here, those lovable gingers should have a record out this year as should the Smith Westerns and Disappears will be taking their new album with Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley worldwide this spring. It's a good time to be a fan of Chicago rock and everyone at the Empty Bottle knew it.

Radar Eyes

Radar Eyes certainly presented a different visual from the first two bands. To begin with, the mess of cords were gone as was the keyboard as was the smoke and hazy lighting. Sporting two guitars, bass and drums the band manage to convey their powerful, no-frills approach with just a glance. Rather than the late 60's, their sound seemed more rooted in the late 70's CGBG's scene - a healthy dose of New Wave style mixed with some ambitious hard rock crunch and a dash of punk energy and anger. Theirs is a guitar-based aural assault with Nathan's rhythm strumming providing a fuzzy, crystalline wall of sound for Anthony's lead to slash, saw, blurp or otherwise cut through. Lucas was a ball of energy pogoing around the stage and pouring caffeinated, Ramones-style bass lines like so much kerosene on an already-buring fire. This left poor Shelly, to reign the boys in and keep songs from spinning off into the night, a task to which her powerful, Janet Weiss-style drumming was fortunately suited.

Despite having thus far only released a six song cassette and a few seven inches, the crowd was clearly familiar with many of the songs. New single "Disconnection" was met with excitement as was old favorite "Miracle". New material sounded no less alive and as the set wore on, the crowd became more and more energetic, feeding off the band and vice-versa. The last song saw Nathan dousing the crowd with a shaken-up can of beer, while Anthony wracked his strings creating walls of distortion through his chicken-legged Elvis Costello stance and Lucas played so hard he fell on his ass (without missing a note, I might add). The crowd-consensus favorite "Shakes" was trotted out as an encore and a few notes in, someone in the crowd replayed Nathan's impromptu shower by hurling a full can of beer at him, soaking him and his Fender, which he played dripping wet as the crowd went nuts. Who said rock was dead?

Few cities are lucky enough to have close to three bands as fun and talented as Outer Minds, Bare Mutants and Radar Eyes coming up right now. To have them on display together, in a friendly venue like the Bottle, FOR FREE, well that's a combination I'd wager you'd be hard pressed to match anywhere.

Chicago sounded great last night.

Download & Listen
Shakes - Radar Eyes
Bloodshot Eyes - Outer Minds

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