Local H/Chevelle/The Burning Brides/The Reputation
Sunday, March 17
Much has changed at Chain Reaction since our last eons-ago visit. In place of those old, saggy couches now sit sets of high-class padded benches that look like they were absconded from an old train station—don't pogo on 'em, kids! The stage has gotten taller, too—now it reaches up to our nipples instead of our crotches. There's also a painfully loud, aneurysm-popping new sound system and a computerized lighting rig, featuring weird, robotic fixtures that hang from the ceiling—were we on acid, they would scare the holy bejeezus out of us whenever they start twisting. But perhaps the coolest new add-on for our lowest-common-denominator tastes was this bit of men's room graffiti: "Actualize Industrial Collapse!"
Not new—just rare—was the sight of two huge luxury tour buses parked outside the club, evidence of both Local H's one-hit-wonder-on-the-comeback-trail status (surely you remember their annoyingly monotone 1996 tune "Bound for the Floor," the one that went "You know you just don't get it/Keep it copasetic"?) and touring partners/fellow Chicagoans Chevelle's we-have-a-new-album-coming-out-in-August-on-Epic-and-even-though-we'll-have-to-pay-the-label-back-for-the-bus-rental-someday-we'll-enjoy-the-perks-while-we-can situation. Both bands had journeyed to Anaheim directly from sets at South By Southwest, which we passed on this year. We hear it was a rather dull affair anyway, especially since the biggest buzz emanated not from a new band, but from the incident when the singer of the Icarus Line smashed a display case containing one of Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitars during their Hard Rock Caf set, which, in Austin, is akin to jerking off on Elvis' grave. How quaint!
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We were also intrigued by the Reputation, another Chicago band who received some highfalutin praise in the LA Times the previous weekend—and fourth-billed bands at Chain Reaction simply do not get that kind of ink, especially in the Times. Perhaps we were expecting too much then, but we found the Reputation's rep to be a rather ordinary one, just a lot of loud-note making that reminded us of too many here-today-gone-today '90s bands such as Belly, Veruca Salt and Letters to Cleo, a three-guys-and-a-girl outfit playing loud and hard yet creating nothing particularly distinguishable from their forbears. Though their singer was often sweet-sounding and evocative, they left a larger impression on us by making us nostalgic for, oh, 1994 or so—a good aural year for us, but not so good that we need to revisit it every time we hear their very of-the-era music.
Philadelphia's Burning Brides were next, a power-rock trio with some of the sweetest, loudest metal grooves this side of Fu Manchu—they're the Philly Fu! Or a spunkier Fu without the surf/skate/stoner worldview, sort of what the MC5 may have sounded like had they been filtered through 1989 Seattle instead of 1968 Detroit (their shaggy-maned yelper even looked like a young Wayne Kramer). They were melodic as all get-out, too, which brought to mind that old people's music the mainstream media used to call "grunge."
Chevelle were a band of three brothers, straight from the Helmet school of maximum eardrum buggery. But for all their volume obsessions, they weren't nearly as good as Burning Brides, mostly because they constantly seemed to be searching for memorable riffs they weren't capable of creating—too staccato and sputtering, the sonic equal of a premature ejaculation.
Then there was Local H, who had played to 3,000 people in Austin just three nights previous. Once, they were thought of as successors to the Nirvana throne (though not by us); now, they're just a touring band looking for another shot. Naturally, that "Bound for the Floor" tune never did them justice—they're actually far better, at least live, mostly just an excellent, thrashy, wild-limbed drummer who wielded extra-thick, pornographic-looking sticks and a screamadelic guitarist/singer, augmented by extra players every now and then to fill things out. They were amped and beefy, and the fact that they still have enough of a following to bring out devotees (to an all-ages, beer-free club, no less) who'll lovingly sing their lyrics back at them must say something, unless all those H-heads were just transplanted Chicagoans longing for a relic of their homeland. Not bad and, perhaps, a promising future—a two-hit wonder, maybe?