Rad Payoff, photo by Patrick Houdek.
Look, I don’t need to say that Chicago is an extraordinary place when it comes to music—that’s a given. If you’ve been here, you know it’s a great city. So before you read the rest of this, make note that this list is in no way a summation of everything going on in the punk scene; it’s an iota of what I would like to portray and the subject is as vast as Lake Michigan itself. And if you think for a second I’m going make some trite, backhanded comparison to NYC or LA like we care, we don’t. Seriously. We truly could not give less of a shit.
I say that because right now, there are some beautiful things happening in Chicago, especially in the Northwest part of the city. There are handfuls of bands popping up and shaping a very unique scene, and their influence is showing. The sounds of older Midwestern punk bands like Dillinger Four, Alkaline Trio, and The Brokedowns still simmer and ring out, but newer bands have been incorporating different elements into their sound. In other cities, this might be considered negative or something to scoff at, but in Chicago, it shines.
One of the best parts about this is that most shows in this part of the city are 10 to 15 minutes apart by foot, public transportation, etc. Venues like Quenchers, The Burlington, and Coles are fairly close and in even in the winter, it’s not hard to get from one place to another quickly. It’s easy to catch multiple shows in one night if you wanted to, and it’s not unusual to hear someone mention checking out certain sets at different venues in the same night. If you have a bike and it’s not eight fucking degrees below zero, you pretty much have the world at your fingertips.
There are a lot of great things to take from the scene here. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it if you keep your ear to the ground. Ask around, and you’re bound to discover something good.
Anyway, I’ll spare you the bullshit jokes about deep dish pizza and whether I’ve seen CM Punk. Here’s a taste of what you can expect from this city when you crash on your buddy’s smelly couch for the weekend.
Comprised of members from noteworthy bands like Sass Dragons and Bust!, there’s no surprise that Rad Payoff presents a very maniacal sound at times. The no-holds-barred approach to their music displays the ferocity in Jason Smith’s vocals and the unusual melodies in Jon Olson’s guitar parts. In whole, they can be brash and unmannered but they don’t fall short of being impressive musicians as well.
If it’s not Velocicopter’s sound that will pull you in, it might be frontwoman Meg Macduff’s impressive hairstyle, but one thing’s for sure—you won’t be able to ignore them. They have an ability to write moody and powerful songs that seem to change every 10 seconds, but it never sounds forced or contrived, and the flow is always just right. Macduff’s voice is clearly a key element in Velocicopter, but the rest of the band’s driving force is not to be overlooked. They are an extremely well put together four-piece that you need to see live.
Two Houses aren’t afraid to be honest. They offer up the kind of honesty you’d expect from a friend who’s drunk and telling you how much your ex-girlfriend sucked or one who is pleading their case for why Total Recall deserved an Oscar. They’re a band that displays a special chemistry onstage, from bassist Ryan Smith’s over-the-top showmanship to Mike Boren’s catchy guitar parts to Dave Satterwhite’s effortless yet critical drum beats. Their music is simple and challenging at the same time, all while being heartfelt and lyrically introspective.
Dog & Wolf
Dog & Wolf are the only band of their kind in the punk scene here. When you consider that they have pinches of alt-country influences in their sound, one could try and say they were influenced by Lucero, but don’t be so quick to judge. They do their own thing. Drummer Dan Tinkler and bassist Nick Arvanitus provide a strong rhythm section to assist singer/guitarist Kyle Geib’s clever riffs and raspy yet soulful voice. Their songs are personable and their live performance is always solid. They are the tightest band live that I’ve seen in Chicago, hands down.
Chris Gottlieb is a very skilled songwriter, and after his old band Wide Angles broke up, I was curious to see what his next move was going to be, as that band had become a favorite of mine over the years. After teaming up with drummer Pat Berry (also former Wide Angles) and keyboardist Mike Alesi, they started Closed Mouths. The band incorporates things like false harmonics, varying guitar tones, synth effects, and Gottlieb’s unique voice to make music that is powerful and distinct.
When I first saw Nervous Passenger, I knew just by the looks of their crowd I needed to stick around for their set. Their catchy and distorted style of punk may be rough around the edges, but it still maintains a subtle charm. They convey the unadulterated inclination to turn the gain and volume up on an amp and scream as loud as they can, but they still have the ability to do something more than make noise.
Rat Hammer is one of the most passionate and lively bands that I’ve seen in a long time. Turning out songs that are less than two minutes and incorporating a balance of surf and punk, they do a spectacular job of keeping things energetic. Their singer Johnny Wilson exudes a specific type of style and performance you don’t see everyday—one that’s reminiscent of Iggy Pop or Jello Biafra, but without being over the top.
Typesetter have played an impressive amount of shows and covered a lot of ground for being a band that’s only a couple years old. Using an array of effects, showcasing three-part vocal melodies, and chasing a persistent and looming feeling to their songs, Typesetter know what they want to sound like. They aren’t afraid to slow things down at times to create a certain mood at live shows, which is not something you usually see in the punk scene.
Meat Wave consists of members from notable Chicago bands like Truman and His Trophy, Elephant Gun, and the aforementioned Wide Angles. With an unforgiving approach, they weave together hard-hitting songs that are moody and intense. Bassist Joe Gac and drummer Ryan Wizniak are a powerhouse of a rhythm section, and they accompany guitarist Chris Sutter’s voice almost too well. Also, their name is like, you know, funny, or something.
Fuck You, Idiot!
There’s little left to the imagination with a name like Fuck You, Idiot! With this band, you’re going to get what you expect: fast, fun, and abrasive music. This four-piece is relatively new and has members from bands like Brickfight and Costanza. Singer Kate Heitmanek provides a carefree yet powerful stage presence, no easy feat in a band that’s so chaotic at times. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and as long as you don’t either, you’ll have a great time at their shows—end of story.
You know a band has found something good when they can convey different emotions without straying away from their sound and style too much. Ribbonhead’s music is gritty and unpolished, and it toes the line of being almost overwhelming at times, yet they maintain the ability to write memorable melodies that always hit the mark. Their strengths are always on display, pushing the envelope with their sound just enough without being too much to handle.