Caviar hit some highs and lows...
Review by Scott StegengaBack in the day, it was interesting to comment on a band's sound simply by their city of origin. When a band came from Seattle it had to be grunge and Manchester had to be dance guitar pop, but Chicago never seemed to have that definitive style. Instead of succumbing to one style to keep it on the map, Chicago's musicians embraced a variety of genres from Blues to Industrial to House to Alt-Country. I prefer this so labels really have to look hard to find that niche rather than just go for the next big band out of (insert city here) expecting them to be just like that other band from (insert same city here). That variety was embraced on August 10th at Metro as 4 great local bands played their hearts out for friends, fans, families, and maybe an inquiring ear from an A&R person.
Photos by Barry Brecheisen
Openers NYCSmoke are indeed from New York City, but their singer/songwriter Howie Statland grew up from these Chicago parts. After heading to NYC for college, Statland was a pivotal member of outfits like Thin Lizard Dawn and Low Flame. His Low Flame work even received attention from renowned composer Philip Glass. After taking a step back form his avant-garde work, Statland formed NYC Smoke and recently released a fine debut CD For The Posers. Taking the indie guitar power that The Strokes have revitalized and adding a dash of Springsteen's working class ethic to the vocals, NYCSmoke pounded through a gritty 45-minute set highlighted by songs like 'The Letter' and 'Empire of Doubt.' Its unfortunate the crowd wasn't at its peak attendance during the set, but some fans were eventually converted by either the stomping guitars reminiscent of Johnny Thunders or the pure rock star ideals personified by Statland's on-stage presence with his gritty vocals.
The grittiness was then followed by what I'd call the 'deep guitar pop' stylings of Assassins. Essentially, this is a new project for Joe Cassidy and Merritt Lear of Butterfly Child. Those familiar with Butterfly Child's smooth indie Britpop stylings were shocked to actually hear bigger sounds and harder rhythms. Songs like the powerful openers "Uppers" and "Yesterdays Feeling" were enhanced with a backing video screen showing visuals from Stanley Kubrick and Darren Aronofsky films as well as mini-cam shots of singers/guitarists Cassidy and Lear from cameras placed on their microphones. I found the choice of Kubrick and Aronofsky film clips to be appropriate as both their films and Assassins' music seems to boldly break the genre and take it to a new ultra-medium. The sensual 45-minute set of heavy pop guitars, electronics, and tribal-esque beats culminated to the closing "Modern Age" making many people wonder where the heck they could buy something from these guys. Lets hope something culminates soon.
The pop was taken down a notch and the rock switch turned way up next with local rock heroes Caviar. After some recent recording for an as-yet-unreleased new album in LA, Blake Smith and company came back to Chicago and swept through a good set of tunes from their major label debut and new songs from a forthcoming release waiting for a label to grab. Some of the newer standout tracks were "Iceberg" and "Clean Getaway." The set peaked with a fine version of their hit "Tangerine Speedo' complete with a specially chosen female audience member fixing martinis on stage as the band played. Their closer blew everyone away with a raging version of Springsteen's "Born to Run" that showcased their live power and a force to be reckoned with. Caviar's sound is more than the indie lounge rock expected from "Tangerine Speedo" as their newer material hearkened back the old days of their previous incarnation, Fig Dish.
The evening closed with the carefree chic of The Webb Brothers. Now with three official brothers (Christiaan, Justin and newly added Jamie), their set of mostly new-and-unreleased tunes got the crowd floating along after the pounding sounds from the prior bands. Of course they also utilized the video screen with Pink Floyd-ish imagery added to their "Super Sounds of the '70s" pop. Some highlights of their set of new tracks included the breezy "World is Big" and "Just as Sweet" proving that their lineage from classic songwriter Jimmy Webb still remains strong. When they also played older favorites like "Liars Club," they easily brought back their Chicago roots to their friends back home.
Shows like this come once in a lifetime. You have 4 great unsigned bands that really deserve some exposure. The local crowd attending are true friends of the industry, and pretension is left at the door. The love for talent is evident and apparently given back. What more can you ask for? Rock stars are people too.
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