By Gene Wagendorf III
The story of my first experience with Tutu & The Pirates is probably the same as the rest of my generation's: Joe Losurdo's magnificent documentary You Weren't There: A History of Chicago Punk, 1977-1984. Of all the grungy misfits featured in the film, Tutu stood out as the most intriguing characters. Their combination of tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Ramones riffs and glam style made them impossible not to notice next some of their more severe and angsty contemporaries. So much great punk is serious, urgent and relentless that it's easy to write off poppier bands with boner humor sensibilities as little more than teenage kitsch. You know, 'cause rock and roll isn't about fun. Luckily for the uncool, 2010 saw the release of Suburban Insult Rock for the Anti-lectual, a compilation of old Tutu & The Pirates material. Two years later it's still got me bopping my head and giggling.
Fun is the operative word when talking about Tutu, who, despite being regarded as the first punk band in The Windy City, don't carry the stench of a nostalgia act. Frontman Li'l Richie Speck took the stage at Favorite Records in a dilapidated cowboy hat and tight silver pants, a solid indication of how seriously he and his band are taking themselves these days. "Delinquent Rat," a grimy, bopping love (?) song found Speck delivering lines like her hair glistened red and it glistened black too/ she smelled just like a lama who'd been locked up in the zoo and I'm in love with a delinquent rat/ I just wanna eat her cheese/ I really wanna lick her skull. "Wham Bam Son of Sam" moved with a slightly faster sludge riff, its slapstick chorus bringing about the first of several rounds of pogoing from the crowd. The audience was as diverse as you'd expect, a motley collection of La Mere Vipere veterans (the show coincided with Club Foot's annual Vipere Reunion Party), hipsters, young punks and a couple of toddlers. The little ones seemed to dig the music as much as everyone else, a testament to how good the hooks were. If any band is a reminder that pop-punk wasn't always a dirty word, it's these guys.
The evening's two highlights were another new song, one that combined an over-the-top theatrical delivery with ska breakdowns, moments of sea chanty punk and Devo nuttiness, and the set-closing classic "I Wanna Be A Janitor." Coming in at just over a minute and a half, "Janitor" combined a twisting lead guitar and plump bass (note: Frankie Paradise was armed with a toilet seat-bodied bass for the song) with Speck's snottiest spatter. A blithe ode to the people always cleaning up our shit, the song seemed to find new relevance in this Occupy/economic collapse climate. Heavy stuff, you know? Punk rock. Serious. Blarg.