Friday, November 2, 2012

Show review: ONO, The Hecks at Quenchers, 10/31

By Gene Wagendorf III 

ONO released Albino on October 31, 2012
In a city that likes to party as hard as Chicago, Halloween runs about two weeks long and offers up more shindigs and shows than the average mortal could dream of attending. Every music media outlet offers up their list of picks (WCR included), but in this writer's opinion there was no better place on the entire fucking plane to be on Wednesday than Quenchers. The evening wasn't just another bland, Malört-fueled costume shit show, it was a celebration of the release of ONO's first recorded music since 1986. More than that (at risk of being overly romantic) it was a celebration of the band itself and the local music scene of which they are such an integral part.

The task of setting the stage for ONO fell upon The Hecks, a jarringly creative two-piece who made a quick fan out of me when they opened up for Black Dice back in May. The songs, and the band, seem to have grown since then, at once aware of their pop instincts and simultaneously torturing them into something fascinating and freshly energetic. It's a nervous energy, one that inspires as much bopping as it does heart-racing. The driving force behind the band is the tension in that duality. Similar to Joy Division (in aesthetic, not so much in sound), the duo whips up bright licks and magnetic shifts, only to yank them into melancholy, and frankly distressing, sonic freakouts. Andrew Mosiman's deadpan delivery consistently dripped across jagged chords and strangely-tuned throngs, biding time until another tightly arranged wave of pop.

The Hecks
Between Mosiman and drummer Zach Hebert there is a clear musical kinship, startlingly so for a band as young as The Hecks. Hebert's ability to move seamlessly from splashy tantrum to maraca-flavored dance beats perfectly compliments Mosiman's string schizophrenia. What makes The Hecks so easy to embrace is the artistic sincerity in their weirdness. The sounds never feel strange for the sake of; their counter-intuitive structures and ability to change direction alleviate any concern over when a harsh spell might end- instead reveling in the anticipation of where it might go next. "Egg Hunt," from the band's split tape with Nonnie Parry, found Mosiman conjuring stringent, hollow wails that dizzyed down into galloping percussion and glittered melody. The song was a microcosm of The Hecks entire set: at times a solemn and twisted ceremony, at times an enchanted, albeit peculiar, frolic.

Attempting to pinhole ONO into a genre is an exercise in futility. Borrowing elements from gospel, no-wave, post-punk, jazz, noise rock and gothic industrial, among many other flavors, the safest and most succinct route is to simply refer to them as experimental art. That term can mean just about anything, and therein lies its appeal- ONO is about possibilities. I've caught the band several times in 2012, and like fellow WCR writer Andrew Hertzberg admitted in his New Year's Resolutions piece back in January, I feel like a fool for every time I've missed them in the past. Every ONO show is a unique happening, the band at a new angle, music at a new angle. Their performances are such a part of their identity that it's no wonder they haven't devoted more time to putting out records.

ONO wasted no time getting into material from Albino, the album for which this ghastly bash was thrown. The group's singer, known simply as Travis, allowed a deep, stammering bass drum to build a brooding atmosphere before he began the deep croon of "I Been Changed." The traditional gospel tune was, like most ONO covers, deconstructed and rebuilt into something new. In this case the usual inspirational embellishments had been stripped, leaving Travis free to spit the lyrics with a haunting bitterness. As the percussive plod was joined by pulses, twinkles and backup vocals, the singer grew increasingly wild and direct, offering up the chorus as a challenge. The result felt almost like a confirmation of damnation; an ominous declaration that played as much with the audience as it did with the song's own history. The piece was given a surprisingly appropriate companion in the following number, a patient and malicious take on The Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs." Stretched out and delivered with more snark than even contemporary Lou Reed channels (and that's saying something), ONO moved the tune forward by forcing angelic keys through a series of grimy hums and swells. Again Travis' vocals shown through, acidic and coiling and captivating.

"Veil," also from Albino, ripped at a fiercer pace with barbed guitars and tumbling drum work. Decidedly more "rock" than anything else they played, the song shook the already enthusiastic capacity crowd into a sea of wiggling costumes and spilling drinks. The ONO performances I've caught in the past have always had a chaotic element to them, but have generally felt measured, as if chaos was simply another instrument in the group's arsenal. Their performance of "Veil" was terrifying and intoxicating for how unhinged it felt. As if anything could happen. Like I said, "possibilities." The high point of the night came at the conclusion of ONO's set, not for it ending, but for the reception it elicited. The audience exploded at the band, cheering long after the last hail of noise had fallen. Chicago is a weird fucking city, and ONO is a weird fucking band. Wednesday night was the perfect way to welcome the birth of this new record. Now let's just hope we don't have to wait 26 more years for another one.

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