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Saturday October 18th, 2008 at Beat Kitchen in Chicago, IL
Genghis Tron, Teith, Yip-Yip, & Black Cobra
Hamilton Jordan of Genghis
Billy Baumann of Teith
Brian Esser of Yip-Yip
Rafael Martinez of Black
[more photos]

The Beat Kitchen has a bad habit of double booking their venue. They schedule an early all-ages show to start at 7pm, and then plan a second show for 10pm. Seldom does this go off without a hitch; there are invariably delays that carry into the second show, ultimately resulting in me being up way past my bedtime. This night was no different. I arrived at 10pm to discover the door to the music portion of venue still closed. I milled around the bar, peering into the club impatiently. My anxiety must have been obvious as someone urged me to sit down at her booth to wait. KTO and I chatted for a few minutes until the doors opened, whereupon I excused myself and made my beeline for the stage.

My usual routine is to set my camera bag down at the front of the stage, go nab a cup of water, and then return to the stage for some quality leaning, people watching, and then some iPhone Scrabble. This time, there was scarcely room on the stage to set down a drink, much less my camera bag. Rows and rows of back-lined gear rose forward from the back wall of the club until only a slither of stage remained. What portion of the gear belonged to the first band was a mystery, and remained so even into the second song. Surely all those guitar cabinets can't be for the one guitar. Yes, they can.

Up first was the duo of Black Cobra comprised of guitarist/vocalist Jason Landrian and drummer Rafael Martinez. Martinez was set up slightly askew at the front of the stage to get a view of Landrian, who stood stage right in front of a full stack (that's eight 12" speakers) as well as a third cabinet containing six 10" speakers. His mission was to be loud. Mission accomplished.

Determining which sub-genre of metal the band might belong to is a matter left to taxonomists and loners, but my best guess would place the band somewhere in the general neighbourhood of sludge. Sure there were moments of riff-driven death, and other moments where things got hectic as the guitar sped off the rails, leaving his rhythm section behind, but it always came back to a swampy metal.

Landrian's vocals were stereotypical throaty screams that emanated from under the long mass of brown hair that covered his face. His guitar work was quick, but not without tune. Martinez is certainly a powerful drummer, beating an enormous (in size not quantity) kit with remarkable force during the slower songs, but when speed was required he grimaced painfully, fighting to keep up with the song. During the segments of "Red Tide" that might have called for blast beats, both of Martinez's legs pumped furiously – however half of that effort was for not – there was no second bass pedal.

After a half hour set played to the outstretched devil-horns of an appreciative audience, the band closed with " Swords For Teeth."

It's been a while since I was able to play "The Faint Game" with a band, but Orlando's Yip-Yip gave me that opportunity. The already tired and drunken crowd watched as this duo of Jason Temple and Brian Esser hurriedly assembled massive stacks of analogue synthesizers at the front of the stage. When all gear was assembled and tested, the band brought up black and white banners that were set erect by PVC pipe, and then disappeared behind them. When the duo re-emerged, they had transformed from geeky musicians, to uber geeks dressed in alternating black and white uniforms. Then the show began.

Listening to the band's experimental, yet largely melodic music is akin to being in the room while your friend plays a 1st generation Nintendo – or more accurately, two of your friends playing different Nintendos simultaneously. That may have been what was actually going on. While I was able to see a vintage synth, the majority of the band's gear was contained in homemade wooden boxes that the players reached into to make their craft. Occasionally the band would produce a refrain that reminded me of the demo at the organ shop across the mall food court from where I spent my adolescence. The sort with all the switches that you'd get yelled at for setting if you went into the store without a parent? So what was in those boxes? The organ taken from your grandmother's parlour in 1971? Circuit bent consumer electronics from the 1980s? Radio Shack transistor kits? Flux capacitors? Anything could have been in those boxes.

To add variation, Temple would occasionally step back from his gear, and play saxophone, or Esser would beat on three angular cymbals. While I thought this was a lot of effort for little pay off, the audience was thrilled by the performance, and called out for songs that the band refused to play. Instead the band played a 25-minute set (just minutes longer than its set up time, thus barely winning The Faint Game) of mostly new unreleased material before unceremoniously calling it quits.

While the first two bands were (curiously) on tour with Genghis Tron, the third band was a local band sandwiched into the mix, celebrating its CD release. The similarities between any of the bands were suspect, but none more so than the case of Chicago's Teith

Before beginning its set, this foursome (as covertly as possible when you're already one stage) put on human masks, and then animal masks over them. During the first song the animal masks were dramatically removed, revealing the secondary human masks. These masks stayed on the entire set. There is a profound statement there; I just don't know what it might be.

The sound of Teith is a loose, somewhat noisy, indie rock. Most songs were driven by complex bass work of Trevor de Brauw accompanied by drummer Lisa Shelley. Guitarist Billy Baumann and keyboardist Josh Grubman provided off-tempo colour and atmosphere, but no melody or structure. Occasionally de Brauw's bass lines settled down allowing the band to expand into post-rock territory. Both styles were equally enjoyable, though neither particularly compelling. When the band members provided vocals, it was in the form of howling from under the aforementioned masks. This howling forced the text-happy audience to look up, but only for a moment until it was back to the phones.

It was late when the members of Philadelphia's Genghis Tron began to test their sequenced light show and electronic rhythm tracks. I was tired, segments of the crowd were tired, and the band announced it was tired as well. Why, oh why, Beat Kitchen do you hate us so? Because of my exhaustion, the band's performance was witnessed in a haze. As such, it can only be recounted in the same vagaries.

Singer/Keyboardist Mookie Singerman paced in front of his keyboard like a caged animal. When vocals were deemed necessary, he would walk to the front of the stage, clutching his microphone, and roar. His interaction with the audience was limited, but comfortable. Guitarist Hamilton Jordan was focused on finger taps and hammering notes on and off upon the neck of his guitar, but, on occasion, it was obvious that his theatrical bends were for the benefit of the audience. Keyboardist Michael Sochynsky seldom even looked up from his two-keyboard configuration; his energies were spent creating the otherworldly atmosphere that gives the band such a macabre vibe. While the blast beats occasionally slowed to a disturbing, clicking groove, more often than not, the band's music was an explosion of hardcore and metal energies. All of this was synchronized to a light show that featured multi-coloured LED banks shining up at the band members, as well as glowing rods at the back of the stage that turned on in a variety of colours. The audience pounded the stage and the backs of friends in a sort of anguished appreciation.

The band's short set was built of songs from its most recent album, with a notable addition of a Chicago-specific Big Black cover. It was nearly 2am when the band finished its set, declining the (very few) calls for an encore. I thanked the band for playing, and for not playing longer, then hurried out the door for my scooter and ultimately home. Remember when Kiss said "If it's too loud, you're too old."? Well loud doesn't bother me – I've got earplugs – but the late, well I guess that's how I know that I'm old. Let's hope the next time I want to see a band at the double-booked Beat Kitchen, that it's the early show and not the late one.