Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Show review: Paper Mice, Lovely Little Girls, Unmanned Ship at The Empty Bottle, 7/16

By Gene Wagendorf III

Unmanned Ship
Monday night saw a few veterans of the local DIY scene bring their brand of noisy hijinks out of the basement and into The Empty Bottle. It was loud, it was sweaty and it was free.

The three-piece sonic goon factory that is Unmanned Ship kicked off the night's shenanigans, promptly leveling the growing crowd with their distinct blend of psychedelic swirling and behemoth riffs. Though focused on crafting grisly and challenging soundscapes, the group still managed to sneak some catchy (albeit crusty) hooks into their set. Evocative of Explosions in the Sky insofar as their approach to aural mood building, Unmanned Ship came off like that band's neglected step-brother, the one locked in the basement whenever the parents have company over. Each bent note seemed to have a chip on its shoulder, and each sludgy eruption sustained itself with maniacal gravity. The music was anything but vulnerable, though a softer, brighter collection of sounds late in the set, offered against more restrained and studious percussion, suggested that Unmanned Ship has depth beyond simply wanting to sear their audiences faces off. That said, the tenderness climaxed with a melting, distorted honk that spread thickly over increasingly speedy drumming. The final song shifted from it's militant, somber pacing into a tilt-a-whirl jam, almost playful in its severity. Whereas Explosions in the Sky construct shimmering epics that invite the listener to revel in their beauty, Unmanned Ship's take is far more empowering, confronting the audience with a raw musical sculpture before tearing it back down. Cathartic, to say the least.

Lovely Little Girls
Not to be outdone, Lovely Little Girls' entire purpose appeared to be audience instigation, though they landed somewhere closer to irritation. At least seven-strong onstage, the group smashed together elements of theater, rock, jazz and no wave into a near indecipherable cacophony. Frontman Gregory Jacobsen (appropriately) donned clown makeup (and little else), while yipping and screaming over carnie rhythms and floppy, squeaky horns.  Bassist Alex Perkolup did find some solid grooves, resulting in an occasionally interesting back-and-forth between he and the drummer. In the end though, the whole thing was entirely unpleasant- weirdness for the sake of weirdness. I'm all for embracing absurdity and bending genres, but Lovely Little Girls never struck me as no wave or Dada. I never found myself engaged or intrigued. I just found myself wishing they'd finish up. After my third attempt to try and glean something moving from the set (I had to leave the room twice for a break) I simply went outside and had a cigarette.

Paper Mice
Luckily the night didn't end there. Chicago math punks Paper Mice closed out the show, celebrating the release of their new album, The Funny Papers. Few groups harness both the urgency and frenzy that this trio does- an almost effortless synthesis of cocaine drumming, angular melodies and spastic vocals. Imagine Chicken Little on Aderol, kicking your door in while you're mid-coitus with a three-eyed slime-unicorn, screaming gloom and doom at you as you're homework lies unfinished on your desk, big test tomorrow, and then the sky really does fall. Now imagine what that sounds like. Welcome to Paper Mice live. Each song's slapstick lyrics were delivered with moonstruck sincerity, the words tossed violently over the blurping joust of guitar and bass. "Banking Up The Wrong Tree" stuttered a funk groove into two distinct head-bobbing segments, highlighting the ridiculous tightness of bassist Adam McCormack and drummer John Carroll. The guitar work of Dave Remnick shifted between needle-prick bursts and crunchy riffs, often hitting almost danceable territory were it not for Paper Mice's use of oddball pacing and negative space. The latter struck me as something the band has really continued to master; newer songs built on the group's usual use of counter-intuitive timing, creating dynamic pauses that kept me so off balance I almost fell over a couple times. I swear, it wasn't the whiskey.

Paper Mice's set wound down with a couple covers: "Love Will Keep Us Together" and a Tina Turner number. Both songs found the group accompanied by a different female vocalist, with the Turner ditty featuring Remnick's wife on the mic. While the first cover played out as a feel-good, tongue-in-cheek romp, the second turned into a blistering jam that served as a testament to the trio's versatility. Though often musically harsh, Paper Mice are clearly a band that likes to have fun. That almost childlike glee was reciprocated by the crowd, who were mostly bopping and smiling throughout the set. Saving the best for last, the group tore into "Fresh Hair," the lead track from 2009's Paint It Pink. Gurgling bass and yo-yo shouts gave way to  pseudo-tribal breakdowns, and elastic delirium that snapped to one last compelling silence. It was a damn fine release show for what's likely to be a damn fine record. That said, no recording, no matter how great, does Paper Mice's live show justice. Guess you'll have to by the album and a ticket to a show. Poor you.


  1. No words for Frank n' Stein?

  2. I (from what I hear, unfortunately) missed their set. Looking forward to seeing them in the future though. Did you catch the set? Should I make it a point to see them?

  3. You missed out on some inventive drumming (Frank Rosaly). Jason Stein was relentless on bass clarinet. Rosaly drummed with his feet at points, then played with and scattered ~10 drum sticks simultaneously. Absurd. See them for yourself, Gene. Although I wonder how you could have missed them entirely.

  4. Ha ha. Why do I feel like mom wants to know why I didn't come straight home after school? I ran into some people I knew and spent some time chatting and playing pool. Satisfactory? Thanks for the description though.

  5. To be fair, no one was really paying attention. They were playing when I got there and couldn't hear anything from the front room, and still barely at all at the bar because of chatting (and its not like you could be far away, since they were playing on the floor).