The Black Kids. All-ages. The small Abbey Pub. I expected to see a line of rosy faces outside of the club when I rode by an hour before doors opened, but there was nobody. At 6:30 – a half hour after the doors had opened – I was able to leisurely walk into the club, confirm my ticket, and amble up to the front of the stage. There couldn't have been a dozen other people in the room. Really? I guess this is why it was moved from The Metro. I overestimated the buzz behind the band I guess. Or maybe the biting review that Pitchfork gave the band's debut album scared everyone away. If so, I owe Pitchfork a fruit basket.
At 7:00 the four members of Chicago's Team Band took the stage. This was the band's first all-ages show, and its members were a bit worried their raucous nature wouldn't translate to the young hipster crowd everyone was expecting. This was a non-issue for several reasons. First, as mentioned, that crowd wasn't there, and second, the band's music doesn't stray far from any of the new stalwarts such as Art Brut, The Hold Steady, or even Les Savy Fav. It's high energy to be sure. It's a tad punk rock. But mostly it's hooky indie rock, defined by ringing rock 'n' roll guitar lines, and spoken post-modern sloganeering.
The band took the stage in matching blue jump suits – each adorned with the band's logo. Team Band's stage show was energetic, though this didn't manifest itself as flailing musicians or aerial acrobatics (though there were brief moments of both). Instead, it came from the engaging self-referential lyrics delivered by singer Greg Drama, and the repeated (and repeated) choruses chanted by the entire band. At this year's Pitchfork Fest, Art Brut's Eddie Argos was so impressed with Team Band as to work its name into his own chant during "Top of the Pops." It's easy to see how one might be smitten.
Although aided by some tipsy under-aged attendees, Drama accomplished the impossible task of motivating the audience to clap and sing along to an unknown opening band. The chanted choruses were introduced to the audience by the precocious Drama, and, as directed, the audience sang along. Incredible!
Toward the end of the set, Drama announced a cover song, stating, "If you like this band, you probably hate us. And if you hate us, you probably like this band." With that, the quartet launched into a well conceived cover of Jens Lekman's "Black Cab." Upon hearing the somewhat familiar strains, Black Kids' Ali Youngblood rushed out from back stage, stared at the band, and shook her head in disbelief. That is probably all the statement the band wanted to make.
Although the crowd clapped, danced, and sang along with Team Band, its allegiance was quickly demonstrated the moment Team Band left the stage, when the audience mobbed forward to the stage in a crush. It seems they were primed not only for buzz band Black Kids, but for The Virgins as well.
This was my third time seeing The Virgins this year (the other two being at Schubas opening for Tokyo Police Club once, and for Ra Ra Riot the next), and each time the band seems to teeter more towards implosion. Call it a hunch but this is the sort of band that, given another hit or two, is going to make headlines for yelling at stewardesses, checking into – and escaping from – rehab clinics, and for high profile relationships with models ending in higher profile break-ups. There is just that sort of swagger to the band. The Tony Manero vibe. Does that reference date me?
And how did this manifest itself? Well, vocalist (and occasional guitarist) Donald Cumming worked the crowd in only the most hackneyed fashion. There was no connection made with the audience, and each time he shouted "Chicago" (and that happened frequently) it seemed more like a belittling "shit cago." His banter made it clear that he didn't want to be playing at 8pm on a Monday at a club in Chicago's residential Irving Park neighbourhood. He was, however, quite clear that he was looking forward to going out with the dancing gaggle of under-aged girls from the front row afterwards. And for the sake of completion, he and four girls were spotted entering Rainbo Club later that evening. When two were turned away for being too young, he proceeded inside with the other two.
That aside, the band does have some wonderful songs – particularly "Rich Girls" which floored me when I first heard it, and still continues to delight me. The funky bass work of Nick Zarin-Ackerman is infectious. Although Cumming had previously provided occasional second guitar work, the band now employs a second fulltime guitarist. Suddenly the quickly strummed and chopped guitar work the band had relied on in the past is now updated with small leads that provide colour and nuance. I'm not sure I need nuance in this band; I must confess that I liked it when they hit me over the head with the obvious push of musical testosterone.
After playing the aforementioned hit, the band continued with a last-minute addition to its set – an ill-advised cover of Squeeze's "Up the Junction." Sadly, Cumming's vocals were sloppy, and the keyboard lead played on guitar was buried to the point of being lost. It was a sad ending to a lacklustre 35-minute set.
At 9:00 the members of Black Kids took the dark stage. The audience applauded as bassist Owen Holmes and drummer Kevin Snow walked on. They cheered when keyboardists Dawn Watley and Ali Youngblood showed up. And when vocalist/guitarist Reggie Youngblood came on, the audience erupted. From the first strains of "Look At Me (When I Rock Wichoo)" to the final notes of "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You" the audience shook its asses while mouthing every lyric in rapt awe.
While this Jacksonville Florida quintet is obviously aware of its success (one doesn't have a crew of roadies and a guitar tech otherwise), Reggie Youngblood struck the perfect balance of honest candour and grandiose performance. When not tethered to the microphone, Reggie Youngblood spun effortlessly about the stage with his guitar. Watley and Ali Youngblood would similarly dance away from their keyboards whenever the opportunity arose. When Ali Youngblood's keyboard malfunctioned, she wrinkled her nose in frustration, stating "Too bad I play all my shit live." Best of all, there were no pat lines of rehearsed interaction, just the direct communication of Reggie Youngblood who was able to convey both the vulnerability of an artist and assuredness of a successful frontman.
I had a great view from my position at the front of the stage, but the mix there was awful. Both Watley's and Ali Youngblood's dancey keyboard lines were lost, which ceded even more focus onto Holmes's bounding bass line. So at 9:45, when the band completed the main portion of its set, I slipped to the back of the club to better hear the encore of "You Only Call Me When You're Crying" and "Hurricane Jane." There I discovered the audience wasn't made up entirely of the under-aged hipsters that lined the stage, but rather a second demographic of Lincoln Park Trixies and Chads. Really? There's quite a schism between the 20-year-old student and the 33-year-old junior partner, but there they both were, dancing (or at least swaying) to Black Kids. Who am I to criticise – good music is good music and everyone should enjoy Black Kids. Shame on both of us Pitchfork.