Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Show review: Smoking Popes, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, Super Happy Fun Club at Double Door, 10/8

By Gene Wagendorf III 

The Smoking Popes do Riot Fest
Saturday at Double Door was an at times weird, but mostly spectacular night.

The free Riot Fest event featured three local bands, and first up were pop-punkers Super Happy Fun Club. I don't have too much to say about these boys beyond "they showed up." Apparently they were a late addition to the bill and I've got to give them credit for being... available? Most of the set was made up of predictable three-to-four minute slush. Maybe it was an off night, but SHFC seemed more concerned with arguing with hecklers and plugging their record than playing music that was at all moving or interesting. The highlight of the set had to be during a lull of extended instrument-tuning, when an audience member yelled, "Play a song!" The group's guitarist responded by saying, "We'll come over there and play a song... in your fucking... ear!" Really? OK. The rest of the set was riddled with obnoxious numbers like "My Life's A Mess (Yeah Yeah Yeah)" which began, of course, with a cheese-ball guitar crunch and the line yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah / yeah yeah yeah yeah. You know how when you type a word or speak it aloud enough times it loses all meaning? Yeah. What struck me as truly odd was when the band was finally greeted with a smattering of applause after a song, singer Stubhy Pandav reacted as if the reception was long overdue.

Elia and M. Ralph on stage
On the other hand, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir earned every cheer, and then some. Walking the line between sincere troubadours and goofball shtick, singer/guitarist Elia had the audience wrapped around his finger through much of the set. Think Kevin Smith humor and wit with a hell of a voice and an ear for catchy, jangly pop. Songs like "One Night Stand" had the crowd dancing while smirking at the cheeky lyrics. Elia's sincere delivery made the song about as sweet and endearing as a tune about fucking a stranger can be. Later, after asking who in the club would like a song dedicated to them, the singer pulled a cute twenty-something up on-stage to dance with him as his band broke into a rattling ballad. Charming, until he belted out the song's opening line, "I hope that you catch syphilis and die alone." Guitarist Mary Ralph did an admirable job of holding the down the musical fort during Ethan Adelsman's occasional dissonant violin shredding, a welcome and unexpected addition to the mostly ultra-accessible set. The Smoking Popes Josh Caterer joined SYGC for the last song, another peppy one that found the band having just as much fun as everyone else.

Chicago's second most famous depilated front-manned "SP" took the stage last, diving right into the rocking "Pictures of You." One of the things that makes The Smoking Popes so much damn fun is that they're reliable. The set was a nice mash of new and old, each song taut and catchy. "Wish We Were,"  from this year's This Is Only A Test, sounded great nestled between a few oldies, and led expertly into an amped-up version of "Cant' Find It," the latter channeling The Ramones at their punchiest. Never a band that I would've described as aggressive, The Popes were giving Riot Fest-ers exactly what they wanted, tearing through their classics with a ferocity that made the set's softer moments more captivating. "No More Smiles' played out like a loose Buzzcocks cover until its stripped down ending. Caterer held his mic over the crowd as the band quietly chugged, letting everyone have a share of vocal duties and giving the singer a chance to step back and take in the moment.

The first truly grandiose bit came courtesy of "Let's Hear It For Love," perhaps The Smoking Popes most cathartic song. Everyone's been made bitter by a shitty relationship at one point, but Eli Dixon Caterer's loopy guitar licks helped to make the experience seem almost desirable. "Punk Band" came off as the unofficial theme song for Riot Fest, glorifying all that generally sucks about playing in such a group: I finally figured out exactly what I wanna be / and if it gets me nowhere / I'll go there proud...  / Playin' in a punk band... / I only wanna be just like Iggy Pop.

Josh Caterer does "Midnight Moon" solo
The first of several encore's featured an acoustic version of "Midnight Moon," from 1995's Born to Quit,  which lent the song a tenderness it lacks on the album and just about turned the Double Door's ceiling into a starry night sky. Those kind of moments clashed harshly with the mood of about a third of the crowd- the liquored-up buffoons who insisted on moshing violently to everything. I know it's Riot Fest, really, I do, but do we need to be throwing elbows during "Pure Imagination?" Even with the weird etiquette that's standard amongst concert-goers, I'm pretty sure gorilla fist-fights and yelling at women are always frowned-upon activities. I'm not holding punks responsible- the culprits looked like Wrigleyvillers attracted by the allure of a free show at an institution that serves beer. During one of the encores, J. Caterer attempted to calm the crowd, slowing down the raucous "Need You Around" and crooning softly, arms stretched outward. It only sort of worked, and eventually he focused his attention on the less intoxicated portion of the audience.

The set concluded with a chaotic romp through "Waiting Around," during which the singer finally caved and took a dive off the stage. Neil Hennessy and Matt Caterer carried much of the song, pummeling their drums and bass respectively while J. Caterer lost his glasses in a swarm of fans. While several of the selections for Riot Fest struck me as odd this year (Weezer headlining the final show, for one), The Smoking Popes proved that they weren't tossed in on account of them being a local draw. They absolutely delivered on Saturday, and Chicago rock is better for having them back.


Check out more show reviews:
Danzig at Congress Theater
The Drums at Subterranean
Atari Teenage Riot at Reggies
Jane's Addiction at Metro
Peter Hook & the Light at Metro

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