Saturday, August 4, 2012

Show review: Shonen Knife, White Mystery, Rambos at The Empty Bottle, 8/2

By Gene Wagendorf III

When I first saw that Shonen Knife and White Mystery were playing a show together at The Bottle, I thought, "aw, fuck, that's the day before Lolla." Much as I dig both bands, I wasn't keen on the idea of being out late before kicking off three days of loud music and nasty heat. Then Rambos were added to the bill, and I thought, "aw, fuck, I'm going to be hungover for Lolla."

The local garage rockers opened their set with "Terrorize," the lead track from this year's Rock and Roll Monsters and the ideal song to play during any imp prison break. I imagine such a thing being a playful rampage, which seems fitting for Rambos as well. During "Human Monster" singer/bassist Jeremy David Miller delivered his somewhat slapstick lines with an eerie conviction that suggested something vile, hairy and howling was on the loose. He was right, though the culprit wasn't a werewolf, it was the grizzly guitar of Ryan Anderson. Playing without French songstress Julie Meckler, the band did a fine job of carrying on; her absence only really glaring on "Vampire," which found Anderson filling in on the harmonies. Not a bad job, but not quite the chemistry and haunting dissonance that exists between Meckler and Miller. Rambos compensated by cutting a little looser in her absence, really digging in to the manic, jammier parts of songs like "Hiyawatha."

A new number, "The Dog Song," showed off Rambos' ability to write a great song with just about any subject as their source. Classic, anthemic garage pop, the tune raced through its minute and half and still had the crowd singing along by the end. Equally surprising was another new-ish song, "Sweet Mothers of Death." Less tongue-in-cheek than much of Rambos' catalog, the track's stuttered ramble and lamenting crescendo were legitimately eerie. Few band's in The Windy City can match Rambos' combination of showmanship, humor, skill and creativity. Only on a bill with Shonen Knife and White Mystery could these guys be openers, and really, they might have been the best band of the night.

White Mystery
Next up were local sister/brother duo White Mystery, over whom many words have been spent trying to sum up just how hard they rock. Currently touring the country opening for Shonen Knife, the show was a bit of a homecoming for the siblings White, and they seemed poised to celebrate. "White Mystery," the first track on 2011's Blood & Venom, kicked off the set. A fuzzy declaration of love and proclamation of self, the riff-heavy jam almost begs for an idealized rock and roll future as it's being played. Singer/guitarist Alex White got the pogoing started a set early, trampolining giddily onstage while the crowd mimicked.

I've seen White Mystery a handful of times, but Thursday at The Bottle is the tightest I've heard them yet. The songs blurred into each other effortlessly, creating a series of pounding rock medleys whose intent seemed to be to cave in roofs and rupture pipes. Clearly students of rock n' roll, White Mystery have succeeded in taking years of crunchy riffs and swagger and cramming them into controlled two-and-a-half-minute explosions. Drummer Francis White took the lead on "Take A Walk," a fuzzy basher from the group's self-titled 2010 release. His pop-rocks-at-the-rodeo tantrum laid the foundation for Alex's siren's call and twisting, vine-like guitar licks. The whole set played out like walking over hot coals, in a less painful, more life-affirming way. These days is seems the only thing with more buzz than a White Mystery show is the band themselves, and this show did nothing but justify the hype.

Shonen Knife
Shonen Knife returned to Chicago for the first time since their 30th Anniversary Tour to headline Thursday's gig. The Osaka pop-punkers worked the crowd well, going through the catalog of classic rock poses during "Konnichiwa," a giddily upbeat rocker that launched the group into their set. Naoko Yamano's sugar-coated solos tore over throbbing, Buzzcocks-y bass lines, only to be out sweetened by her own candied vocals. "Pop Tune," the title track of the band's June release, sounded exactly as advertised; a smartly-crafted, energetic pop song. That said, the new tunes weren't all standard Shonen Knife faire: "Psychedelic Life" was a rolling, ominous thumper with a more severe timbre than is the trio's norm.

As if to quell any fears that they'd traded in their leather jackets in for paisley, Shonen tore through the ridiculously charming and somewhat boneheaded goodfball punk of "Rubber Band," from 2002's Heavy Songs. "BBQ Party" followed the same simplistic formula, chainsaw guitars and charmingly naive lyrics, before switching gears from summery jam to mosh-ready mayhem. The pogoing reached its high point during a bubbly cover of "Rockaway Beach" the only track from Osaka Ramones that made the set list. Appropriately, the night before Black Sabbath took the stage at Lollapalooza, Shonen Knife then whipped out a rusty riff-heavy metal number that would've made Tommy Iommi proud. A couple grimey, scuzz-punk jams ended the night, but the highlights came earlier. Ritsuko Taneda's ability to match Yamano's energy with elastic bass lines gives Shonen Knife all the tools they need to maintain their status as the Queens of Pop Punk. Some groups wear down with age, but these ladies just seem to get faster and catchier.

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