November began with something that was a bit unexpected for me - a Bret Michaels concert. A sold out Bret Michaels concert. The VH1 star packed them into Joe's on Weed St. on November 4th, but it wasn't Bret I was there to see. I was there for Chicago indie rock outfit Molehill, who were opening up for him. I knew Molehill could thrill a venue, but was curious to see how a room full of folks who had come to see the old rocker would react. They loved it. Molehill had a crowd there as well, but what really grabbed my attention was the way the newcomers dove right in. Frontman Peter Manhart played solos and rhythm while darting back and forth around the stage like a sixth grader who had too much Mountain Dew. I was delighted at the reception the crowd had to new, original and edgy songs. Luckily, Peter's guitar packs them so full of hooks that their nearly burned in the brain by the time the songs are over. The rhythm section sounded fantastic, with bassist Trevor Jones locked in to the drums and bringing the proverbial funk. All in all, it was a big stage and it welcomed Molehill with open arms.
In the middle of the month I found myself at the Empty Bottle to see Magic Kids. I was not terribly familiar with them, but after hearing a few bands they had played with (GIRLS, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti and Chicago's own Smith Westerns), I was in. The band did not disappoint. They were an explosion of color and warmth while seeming off-kilter enough to be dangerous, like that really hilarious but sometimes cutting friend. It was sweet pop music, complex in its arrangement and progressions. It came off well played loud while avoiding the pitfall of having all of the sounds compete with each other. I'd been in a serious Pulp phase and lead singer Bennet Foster's goofy cocksure swagger made me recall Jarvis Cocker immediately. He has a lovely voice with a wide range and uses it to emphasize the band's creative dynamics. Magic Kids filled the Bottle with a sound of jubilation that was bittersweet, given the contrast between the sunshine-drenched tunes and the rapidly dropping temperature outside.
|White Mystery (photo: Rob Karlic)|
First off, I had never been to Cole's. My mistake. It was a rad bar and the evening before Thanksgiving it was packed. It made sense, considering the bill contained three of the funniest comedians in the city: Adam Burke, Junior Stopka and Cameron Esposito as well as one of its hottest rock and roll bands. I know this site is called Windy City Rock, but I would offer here that one does not need to play an instrument to earn that descriptor. Case in point: if you have not heard Burke's stand-up, you are missing some of the most creative, intelligent, gloriously irreverent comedy this city, rich in that tradition, has to offer. Adam's literary delivery and eloquent construction make his listeners not only twice as willing to burst into the relief that is a punchline, but also feel good about their smug asses for knowing what the hell he's talking about. I mean it (and Adam, you can quote me on this exquisite piece of criticism), he's really fucking funny.
After that, the first band of the night - a psychedelic garage act called the Runnies - made it clear what kind of party it was going to become. The guitar crunched perfectly into the room heating up bodies like a twin reverb fireplace. Needless to say, the stage was set when White Mystery got up there and threw down. I wouldn't want to be so obvious as to say that I was blown away by the amount of kick-ass that was achievable for just the two band members, but I totally was. Their energy was the best kind - inescapable. In fact, aforementioned performer Adam Burke and I, neither of us having seen the duo before, had a moment about two songs in where we gave each other a "holy shit, listen to this!" look. It was like witnessing a two person riot. At one point, guitarist Alex White was on her back in the middle of the crowd and while the audience rocked with her, they gave her a little space, just not entirely sure if they could keep up. I found myself fearing for drummer Francis's safety at times, but he fearlessly drove the songs forward and there was simply no stopping the brother-sister duo from reminding the pre-turkey party goers how powerful a guitar and some drums can be.