There are some shows where the less said, the better. This is one of them.
At 6:15 Chicago's She Likes Todd began it's 30-minute set of aggressive pop punk. With simple song structures, driving guitars, and ample backing vocals, the band recalls No Use For a Name, as well as just about every other band that recorded for Fat Wreck in the 90s. Despite the band's two-guitar line-up, there were few (if any) guitar leads, although vocalist/bassist Rob Sulzman did have several bass solos that highlighted his aggressive fingering. The band's performance was loose, but still lacked energy. Few bands are able to find the right tone when playing to an audience of only 12 people (nearly all of them being the other bands and their guests) who stood 30ft. away from the stage.
While the band played, I moved about the empty room in hopes of finding the optimal sonic listening spot. While the room never sounds good (especially at the front of the stage as the mains are placed so far forward), when empty the sound is abysmal.
At 7:10 the longhaired and bearded trio of Bruiser began its set. Vocalist/guitarist Dan Stock fronts this Chicago band, with bassist Clarke Mills and drummer Chris Balagot providing the rhythm section. This was Balagot's first show with the band, after replacing drummer Joe Daniels (of Local H fame.) Although the band is tough to pin down stylistically, the main impetus of its sound is hard rock built on unrelenting drumming and bouncing fingered bass lines. Stock's guitar work is riff-based and driving, but occasionally drifts from hardcore-styled false harmonics (the band claims Quicksand as an influence) to drugged-out meandering interludes. With a plethora of effects pedals, and the ability to switch between an Ampeg and an Orange amplifier, it was obvious that Stock had given considerable thought to the sounds he was after. His vocals shifted from a commercial post-grunge to an altogether unpleasant scream delivered in a funky cadence reminiscent of Steven Tyler. Although only 15 people were in the room for the band's performance, Stock still tried to amp the audience. It was a lost cause.
It was only 7:55 when the four members of Chicago's One Light Out took the stage. Like Bruiser, the band has had some industry success, and has recorded an album. Also like Bruiser, I had never heard of them. The paying audience had heard of them however, and thusly One Light Out drew the largest crowd of the evening – 25 audience members, and over half of them women. In an effort not to disappoint these loyal fans, the band played the same energetic set that it might have played to a crowd of 200. Guitarist Dave Kneip was particularly memorable due to his propensity to leap about the stage. It was obvious that the audience appreciated the effort, as they not only stepped forward to watch the band, but also took the misguided step of shouting, "show us your nipples" to vocalist/bassist Mike Roscoe. Nothing good can come of that.
The band's music is easily digestible modern pop punk. Songs are built on expected patterns, and augmented by plenty of backing vocals. While the band's rapid fire drumming and quick vocal delivery are reminiscent of "old timers" like NoFX, songs also contain smooth, soaring vocals that place it amongst the current faceless emo crowd as well. From what I could tell, the band does it quite well, although the last pop-punk record I bought was The Queers Love Songs for the Retarded in 1993, so what do I know?
The evening's headliner was Leiana from Philadelphia. Let's see, how to explain Leiana. Well Leiana is a person. She is petite, blonde, attractive, tattooed, and brutally independent. On this night she's suffering from a cold. Leiana is also a musical project built from the vocals, lyrics and music of Leiana and the musicianship of consummate studio player Chuck Treece. Leiana is not, however, a band. She makes that clear throughout the set by referring only to herself, almost cruelly omitting the other players on the stage. In her thinking, the other players are only hired hands – anonymous and without a say in the band.
This night was only the second or third night featuring the line-up, and the newness of the backing band was evident. The guitarist didn't come in when expected, the bassist didn't go out when he was supposed to, and the drummer often seemed to be playing a different song than the rest of the band. Initially Leiana tried guiding this trio through her songs, but when that failed, she could only smile and/or grimace at each mistake. The songs on Leiana's latest CD (released on her own Page records) pack a tight percussive punch, accented with buzzing guitars; however none of that came through live. Furthermore, Leiana's voice was buried in a muddy mix. This left, essentially no trace of the gutsy punk rock I had expected to see.
For better or worse, the majority of the audience had sloughed off after One Light Out, leaving only nine bodies to witness the disaster from the back of the club. After a short set of barely 20 minutes, Leiana thanked the audience, and walked off the stage while her players packed up their gear.
There's more that could be written, but as I noted earlier, "the less said, the better."