Thursday, January 5, 2012

Show review: Close Hits, Rambos at The Burlington, 1/4

By Gene Wagendorf III

If the Mayans are right and this really is The Last Year for humanity at least I can say I kicked it off with two of my favorite Chicago bands. Close Hits and Rambos left my ears ringing and had me pumped for a 2012 that ought to be filled with great local music.

Gearing up for the release of their debut record Rock and Roll Monsters, garage-rock gang Rambos blasted through a set of old and new material in front of an eager crowd at The Burlington on Wednesday. I don't know what this crew drank on NYE, but whatever it was had them charged with enough energy to level a small town. They didn't actually shatter the walls of the bar, but it wasn't for lack of effort, especially with respect to drummer Ian Tsan. After getting his leg shattered by a car back in October, Tsan seems to have spent his recovery time plotting ways to take it out on his kit. "Terrorize," the band's musical call to arms, lurched from the stage like a drunken, pissed-off Frankenstein's Monster, stumbling and thrashing with drum rolls and fills. Later, "Human Monster" maintained the Svengoolie-esque atmosphere. Washy guitars swirled over a chugging riff, giving vocalists Jeremy David Miller and Julie Meckler a Fright Night playground to yelp and holler over. The on-stage chemistry between those two remains one of Rambos' strong suits, and in a better world it would be the backbone for a Rambos Variety Hour special.

Two reworked (and re-titled) covers were sprinkled into the set, both getting the crowd bouncing- "Faggots," a comic take on the Black Lips' "Bad Kids," and "Do You Want to Die?," a punk take on Bobby Freeman's “Do You Want to Dance?"As I've noted previously, the latter is closer to a Ramones tribute than it is to the dreamy original, allowing it to fit perfectly next to newer Rambos tunes like the jangling punk of "Sweet Mothers of Death." That song tore across The Burlington like a black dust storm, contrasting starkly with some of the more plodding numbers that followed. Drifting away from their punk energy for a bit, Rambos gave their guitar players a chance to shred on some chunky, riff-heavy songs. The set ended with "Arrows," a song that has the musical charm of getting slapped in the face during a really great bout of sex. It hooks you in to the moment, leaving you to wondering whether you should slap back or start laughing. Either way it's hot and I'm comforted to know that this kind of fun has a place in 2012.

The duty of post-coital cuddling fell to Close Hits, who were more than eager to step in and give us a lighter bit of loving. That isn't to say the trio took the stage and eeked out pappy fluff, but their Motown and candy rock influences stir up a whole different kind of musical copulation.

Close Hits
When last I left Close Hits, drummer Evan Burrows was fleeing Chicago for warmer climates, leaving the band in a state of flux. The new lineup... looked a little like the old lineup. Ian Bertorelli assumed bass duties, while former bassist Ian Wisniewski found his way to the kit. Combining scratchy rhythms, schizophrenic solos and steadfast percussion, Close Hits bopped through a set that even the most ardent wallflower would have been hard-pressed not to move to. Singer/guitarist Dan Rico had his musical influences on full display, moving like Elvis, singing with a Prince-like flair and playing songs that sounded like a long lost Modern Lovers record. Unfortunately, the early portion of the set found his guitar burying his voice in a sea of fuzz, albeit danceable fuzz. Oh my, did I just coin a new genre?

Astutely dropped into a string of Close Hits' older material was a cover of The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling." Injected with a snap and pep the original never had, the cover was devoured by the crowd eager to sing along and shimmy. Other highlights included a song that sounded a bit like the dance rock cousin of "Blue Moon," and multiple catapults into the crowd by Rico. Not content daring the theoretical camera to film below his waist onstage, the singer seemed to want to actually make some babies in the crowd. Far too late to be the first children conceived in the new year, and likely not even the first conceived at a Close Hits show. The evening ended with Wisniewski and Bertorelli trading places, the former joining Rico to duet on a plucky, soulful closer. The song provided the only moment of sobriety in an evening otherwise filled with fist-pumping anthems and juke-along romps, and found Close Hits hitting their mark. With a new record slated for release later this year, let's hope the trio doesn't forget that last song while in the studio. A slow jam like that slipping out of my stereo might jeopardize my attempts not to procreate, but fuck it, if the world is ending at least I won't have to worry about paying this imaginary kid's college tuition.


  1. dan totally ran into you a bunch too. that show ruled.

  2. Don't worry - the Mayans never said this would be the last year for humanity, there might be some changes though.