By Gene Wagendorf III
It takes balls to open your show with a Beatles cover, even if you're a Beatles cover band. And if you're not some kind of tribute act, then what you're doing is re-imagining the work of three-and-a-half geniuses who tend to be near universally adored. If you nail it, well, then you're Bullied by Strings.
Kristen Rowland kicked off the cover of "Things We Said Today" Thursday night at Underground Lounge with a seductive, sleuthy melody that sauntered out from the tip of her flute and across a bubble wrap beat. Honking synths pulsed behind Mike Guidry's saxophone until the end of the chorus, where ferocious jackhammer drumming broke through and made my bits tingle. Doubtfully unintentional, as BBS took Paul & Co.'s creamy profession of love and added a Divinyls-sultriness that likely has the Pope shaking his head.
Shifting into something closer to Caribbean hip-hop, "Big Mouth" found Kristen channeling M.I.A. in her vocal delivery. The singer's range is one of the group's strengths; she seemed just as comfortable spitting rhymes as she did on the slow, confessional drawl of "You Lift Me Up So High." Part of her charm also comes from the mesmerizing dynamic she shares with drummer Gabe Rowland. Where Kristen is blending burlesque and ballet throughout Bullied's shows, Gabe is a picture of primal focus, working his kit with both an expert precision and borderline-animalistic fury. The more intricate and provocative her movements, the tighter and more determined his drumming. Had the club not already been at basement level, I'm pretty sure Gabe would've drilled down to it.
A perfect band for the ADD Generation, BBS blazed through combinations of juke-beats, flute-infused rap and splashes of New Wave warbling. The recent addition of Guidry on both sax and bass gives the (former) duo added punch and dexterity, making it all the easier for them to avoid even a hint of monotony. The set ended with the thrashy electro-rock romp "Unnecessarily Rude," a sonic punch to the face than now bears brass knuckles thanks to Guidry. Songs that have me confused as the whether I want to dance or fight are generally a good thing, and this one's no exception. "Rude" allowed the night to conclude as it began, with Gabe taking everyone's shitty day out on his drums and Kristen's lithe vocals springing from the speakers. If you've checked WCR the last few days you know all about my miserable bastard of a cold, and that sickness coupled with a trek through douchey, icy Wrigleyville on a school night had me questioning heading to this gig. Remind me never to do that again. Bullied by Strings: well worth it. Also, Bullied by Strings: sounds great on NyQuil. I'm making a t-shirt. Cheers.
Check out more show reviews:
Fujiya & Miyagi, YAWN at Lincoln Hall
Chairlift, Class Actress, Polica at Schubas
Close Hits, Rambos at the Burlington
Color Card, Mines, Famous Laughs at the Empty Bottle