The Note isn't exactly a dive bar, and it's not exactly a hipster bar, but it's definitely not a Wrigleyville bar inhabited by Trixies and Lincoln Park-dwelling up-and-comers. At least it's not normally that sort of bar. But for some reason, on this night, the club was loaded with bland would-be yuppies. Where oh where did The Besties pick up these fans? Stick around, all will be revealed in time.
At 9:30 Chicago's My My My took the stage. This quintet plays a loose and breezy rock best left to concerts held on the university quad or wherever Hacky Sacks are present. The aforementioned Dave Matthews, Jayhawks and Hootie-loving show attendees ate up the funky, fingered bass lines, the all too prevalent pulsing piano chords (replicated on a Juno 6 synthesizer), and the unimaginative, constant crash of the drummer's cymbals. Frontman Russell Baylin speaks his vocals, but alters them to a shout to reach over the band's crescendos. There is no other variety or craft. Backing vocalist Sarah Snow figures prominently into the band's sound. Baylin's guitar (generally a large, hollow-body Epiphone electric) handles the melody, although Snow awkwardly strummed the acoustic guitar whenever another band member strapped it onto her. Aside from the rare moment when the band dipped a bit into 70s pop territory (as is the case with "Conjugation Nation"), My My My's insultingly-long 45-minute set was a tangible manifestation of my personal hell. Not surprisingly, the large audience of interlopers ate it up. I can only assume each band member brought six coworkers and three members of their immediately family to the show. Most of these attendees finished their glass of Miller Genuine Draft and left after the band completed its set.
A quick set change brought the quartet of Mean Ohio to the stage at 10:30. It didn't, however, bring me any relief. This Chicago foursome is fearless in its merging of dark, complicated, bluesy numbers and jamming psychedelic tinged ones. At best, pop compositions came across as a subdued homage to early Pink Floyd – just with unfortunate funky bass lines thrust in them. Guitarist Jon Neiser's vocals are long and whinesome, and when not tethered to the microphone, he slinks about the stage like some 70s bass player from The Doobie Brothers or an Eric Clapton backing band. Guitarist (and occasional keyboardist) Johnny Drexler contributes tangential, mostly-spoken vocals, although he was able to blend nicely with Neiser on occasion, creating something pleasantly reminiscent of progressive rock bands past. Unfortunately, Drexler's odd Tarazan-like yodel, which dominated the second number of the set, overshadowed anything good Drexler was able to contribute during the remainder of the band's impolitely long 40-minute set. I must admit that I did enjoy the jazz-tinged drumming of Matt Espy. A bit of investigation reveals that Espy also played with Atombombpocketknife and The Reputation – two bands I definitely enjoyed. How one man can fall so far is a mystery.
As the stage was cleared for the next band, a similar event was taking place in the audience. Many patrons left after My My My, and still more slid into their coats and left after Mean Ohio. With most of the "coworker crowd" gone, some normalcy returned to The Note. Between bands I sang along to music by Wire, The Buzzcocks, The Stooges, Johnny Thunders, The Stranglers, X-Ray Spex, The Runaways, and New York Dolls. This is The Note I enjoy, and finally it was being returned to me.
At 10:25 the five members of Ash in Pensacola brought a palpable change to the stage. This local band was loose, playful, and in the case of drummer Matt Roan, a little inebriated. Guitarist K. Pritchard fronts the band with help on backing, and occasionally lead vocals, from keyboardist Mindi Maneck. While Pritchard's vocal delivery is casual, (if not sloppy) lo-fi indie fare, Maneck's vocals are smooth and clean, similar to those of Elizabeth Elmore (Sarge, The Reputation). As a duo, they are tops. The band's foundation is provided by both Donna Miller‘s cello, and the similarly utilitarian bass work of Cole Blodgett. Altogether the quintet creates a snappy indie pop sound more reminiscent of the late 90s than the current kitchen-sink-and-chaos sound favoured by so many of today's indie pop acts. While the members of The Besties watched the band's entire set, a faithful cover of Del Shannon's "Runaway" got them bouncing and dancing. As if in return, the band played a tasteful 25-minutes, leaving as much time as possible for the headliners.
Still, it was already after midnight when the four members of The Besties began their set. Although the band would only play to thirty people, each of those thirty was up front and having a good time. It takes a lot to get an indie rock crowd dancing, but The Besties accomplished this feat quickly. How? Well it seems the band had gotten a bit of a head start wooing its audience. The remarkably dissimilar opening acts allowed The Besties to befriend each of its beleaguered fans before playing. As everyone was already chummy, once the band began playing the night quickly turned into a party.
Throughout the evening vocalist/keyboardist Kelly Waldrop played the straight man to the silly yet endearing banter of guitarist/vocalist Rikky Walsh. While downing a can of PBR Walsh remarked that although he might not be playing the best show of his life, he was having one of the best times of his life. Any exaggeration aside, the band was definitely enjoying itself. Keyboardist/vocalist Marisa Bergquist was relatively quiet between songs, but would occasionally jump in the fray to illicit rolls of laughter. Such was the case when she introduced the an upcoming song as a "rocker" that would "melt your dick off."
Of course even the band's rockers are really just revved up pop songs. And the non-rockers are cloying saccharine pop gems influenced by the girl groups of a generation ago. Walsh's guitar is seldom obvious in the mix, instead allowing Waldrop's keyboard to carry the melody while Bergquist's keyboard manages bass duties. Drummer Frank Korn provides live drums for the band (a task previously managed by Bergquist's keyboard), using the smallest kick drum known to humankind. In fact it looked like the entirety of the band's gear would fit in the truck of a compact car. Does the band tour in a Prius perchance?
Due to time constraints, the band was forced to keep its set uncharacteristically short. So after 40 minutes, The Besties put down their instruments with no opportunity to return for an encore. Immediately the lights came up, and Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" came over the house speakers. While the band couldn't play any longer, its members did take the opportunity to dance and sing along to the song. Yes, each Bestie seems to know all the words to the song. Oh and they also know how to shake their asses.
Although the schizophrenic bill was not the fault of the venue (that onus can be placed on the promoter, MP Shows), the venue wasn't guiltless. First, the sound throughout the evening was rough; specifically, Waldrop's microphone frequently squealed with feedback during The Besties' set. Second, all bands were nearly invisible under the two red lights pointed at the stage. Why the club thought we might want to see the bands draped in shadows, accented by bright red highlights is anyone's guess. And lastly, what venue allows the opening bands of a four-band bill to play 45 and 40-minute sets? I just don't get it.