Four DIY bandsStrawberry Jacuzzi, Le Tour, Velocicopter and Absolutely Not ( who generally play low-key bars or DIY spaces )hit one of Chicago's most venerated venues, The Metro, and not a moment too soon.
In the first weeks of 2016, the DIY scene here was hit especially hard by three unexpected events. First was the passing of local performance/multimedia artist Michelle Fitzsimmons, followed by the death of David Bowie ( who was so forward-thinking that, despite being one of the most famous rock stars on Earth, his influence inspired the DIY aesthetic to such a degree that he seemed to have invented it ). The major sucker punch came with the sudden closing of Young Camelotlikely the most respected, celebrated and successful DIY house in the city.
If the night came off like a massive local alternative/underground confab ( the audience included so many scene makers/shakers that I dare not list them here ), the one down side was that this was the final performance of Velocicopter, a band which sounds exactly like its name. Fronted by Meaghan McDuff ( who also fronts Bleach Party, which I have written about in this column ), the design of this band seemed to be to surround her huge voice, with musical mayhem to match. It would be unfair for me to review the band's set, but I can say that it clearly showed McDuff to be one of the two hardest-rocking women in this town ( the other being Cathy Richardson ).
Of the four bands on the bill, Le Tour was the only wholly unknown quantity to me, which may explain why I did not connect with the act immediately. After what sounded like 15 minutes of bland indie-garage pop, I got zinged by the pungent, dreamy, psychedelic "Trance." That song affected me so much that it sent me to Terre Eyes ( available on Bandcamp ), the trio's eighth and latest release.
What did not seem obvious onstage took on a new life on CD. Front man Patrick Campbell has an indistinct, unadorned, limited voice but when he sings he invests so much intense passion and emotion that he turns unfussy pop songs into enrapturing little arias. Better still, Le Tour ( also including Colin Campbell on drums and Jevin Kujawa on guitar ) has a knack for tweaking those songs into compelling oddball masterworks. I have been listening to "Working Man" and "Freak" all week and I fear that I have heard the best 2016 has to offer.
I was looking forward to seeing Shannon Candy ( formerly of The Peekaboos ) in her other band, Strawberry Jacuzzi. As much as I loved the three-ring circus vibe of the former, it was downright refreshing to see Candy not have to duke it out for the spotlight with two other over-the-top characters ( Matt Muffin and Rob Majchrowski ). With the comparatively subdued ( but not overshadowed ) Nikita Word sharing vocals and fretwork, and a testosterone-fueled rhythm section ( Devon Press and Ross Tasch ) Strawberry Jacuzzi has a much more focused musical personality and approach.
This is a band that loves to romance catchy, intelligent, scruffy feel good pop while showing off smarts and charisma in abundance. Where Word stayed calm and let the songs do the talking, Candy grabbed her onstage moments and cut up like the pop tart she truly is. On the digital single "Bitch Jam," the hooks are laid up front amid a ringing, chirpy, blitz of fizzy cheer and they all seem to be having such a fun time on it you have to wonder how they got it recorded.
Having met Donnie Moore through his queer monthly blowout Glitter Creeps, I was alternately appalled and spellbound when I finally got to see his band, Absolutely Not. With sister Madison on keyboards and new drummer Santiago Guerrero, Absolutely Not manages to go in several directions at once with the flaming violence of an exploding planet. If Madison remained cool throughout the band's set and Santiago provided a mercilessly hard beat, Donnie played the hyperactive nutter like his life depended on it.
At once a guitar slinger, clown and stud, Donnie has taken the expression "raging queer" and turned it on its head with a vengeance. Twitching, lunging, shaking and whipping back and forth, he was all spastic quaking and frenzied energy as he ripped through the set with malicious glee and sang his little heart out. Granted Madison may have been the only reasonably sane person on that stage ( at one point she whipped out a tambourine, started whacking it like a voodoo goddess in full exorcism mode, then jumped into the audience for a romp around the room ) but it was clear that the woman kept the trio anchored. The punchline of Absolutely Not, as the new split CD on Berserk Records reveals, is that the sound and music of the group matches the kinetic, scruffy friction that they create onstage. Clearly I will have to go back and check these bands out again in the coming months.
Heads up: The March 26 show with queercore rockers Los Crudos, with Tigress and MK Ultra, at The Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., is sold out.