Note: Despite falling in love with two of the bands this night, I never actually finished an account of this show. Now, over eight months later, I figured I should share what I started for those who might be intersted.
[click to read the incomplete show account]
Katherine and I walked through the positively suburban neighbourhood that makes up the core of Chicago's Roscoe Village. It was dusk on a lovely summer night. Crickets, sprinklers, plastic toys strew across manicured lawns, porches with rocking chairs, the whole nine yards. Squirrels, birds, and even an occasional rabbit played in the green grasses. When we arrived at Beat Kitchen, it seemed a shame to enter into the crowded, noisy and smoky club. After all, I had never heard of any of the bands playing; I was attending on a hunch, and on recommendation from a music publicist – both have gotten me into trouble many times.
At 9:00 sharp the five members of Chicago's Sleep Out walked up to the stage. The indie rock quintet is lead by vocalist/guitarist Quinn Goodwillie. He's a good-looking all-American sort of kid in his early-to-mid twenties. T-shirt, blue jeans, sneakers, and a Fender guitar. The rest of the band was dressed about the same. Goodwillie has good instincts, pretty good chops, and a good voice. His band, however, needs retooled. Sleep Out is standard fare indie rock. Finding anything remarkable about the band is a lost cause. Both the second guitarist and the bass player were sub-par players (either that or severely limited by the material given to them) who added nothing to the songs. Keyboardist Eddie Lo was similarly invisible throughout most of the set, although his backing vocals did work well to fill out Goodwillie's. Lo later showed he could play guitar (for the band's final number, the members of Sleep Out surmised incorrectly that three guitars were necessary) adding value to him as a utility player. I was quite happy with the interplay between drummer Ben Geier and Goodwillie. While Geier often played simple disco punk rhythms, he made the most out of them, and his cymbal work was actually pretty interesting. It's a bad sign when the cymbal work is the most interesting thing you notice during a band's live set. Sleep Out, however, did little to provide other interest. There was zero movement throughout the set. It is a sin for a five-piece band to be that stagnant. When Sleep Out completed its polite 30-minute set, I shared an uneasy look with Katherine and we both wondered if the night might have been better spent counting fireflies.
Things turned around quickly when Syracuse's Mason Proper finally climbed on stage. The band is a quintet in the same way, but Mason Proper could not have been anymore different than Sleep Out. The band is a swirl of energy, of noise, of motion. First, vocalist/guitarist Jonathan Visgr is a handsome and assured – if not cocky – frontman. His vocals were engaging, frenetic and animated, and when given any opportunity, he spun and hopped around the stage leaving any necessary intricacies to lead guitarist Brian Konicek. Konicek's guitar slashed and ripped into some songs, and provided complex counterpoint in others. Bassist Zac Fineberg and drummer Garrett Jones provided a bounding and bold rhythm section that recalled post punk bands such as The Talking Heads and The Police. Matt Thomson completed the band's sound by providing (literally) two suitcases full of synthesizers and effects. While often the blips and squeals served as accents, many times keyboard lines took centre stage. This wasn't merely the Moog swells used by emo bands, his work was integral to the songs. Each instrument had moments to shine, and none were ever there merely to provide filler in lumbering compositions.
The band is still touring behind its last album, however Mason Proper's sound has grown by leaps in the years since the album was recorded. The old songs are now more dangerous, and infinitely more intense, while the new material seems to be born out of urgency. Brand new (and still tentatively titled) "Bone Men" was the highlight of the show. It's a massive blending of bouncing disco punk, driving indie rock, and complex post hardcore. I haven't been this impressed with an opening band since seeing Cold War Kids open for Tapes 'N Tapes last summer. I plan on telling similar "I saw them when" stories.
After a giant instrument-pounding finale from Mason Proper, the stage was cleared for Michigan's Ra Ra Riot to take the stage. Kids that were my peers in the appreciative audience only moments ago, now stepped onto the stage and unpacked instruments. Soon the stage was, again, full of players. This time the number had grown to six, but in an entirely different configuration.