Little to eat, little to sleep, and far too much to drink, had transformed the last 78 hours into a ruthless train wreck. The Motrin I had attempted to swallow before attending the show last night was still stuck in the back of my throat, but the thought of downing another beer wasn’t particularly inviting. Nonetheless, I collected the tattered bills at the bottom of my pocket, purchased a drink at the bar, and set up camp by the left side of stage. It was nearly start time and stragglers were still pouring into the main hall of Schubas. Those that had arrived early, awkwardly tapped their Chuck Taylors against the hard wood floor, folded their arms, and chain-smoked cigarettes while loudly discussing how “fucked up” they had gotten the night before. The relatively small stage forced amps, microphones and instruments into an uncomfortable clutter, but I knew this lack of space would no doubt compel the musicians to give an even more intimate performance.
In the span of nearly five minutes the venue had gone from being scarcely packed to nearly full, a testament to this rapid change in density could be heard in the solid applause given The Hong Kong as they entered. A series of hoots and hollers welcomed all members to their places, and without much more than a simple introduction, the Hong Kong jumped into their first song. A dreary mix of hangover headache and simple fatigue put an unbarring strain on my body, perhaps equivalent to carrying a backpack full of bricks, but something about the group's charismatic energy and upbeat rhythms shot me in the ass like a lighting bolt. Suddenly, tired as fuck didn’t matter. You had to be dead not to dance to this performance.
Front woman Catherine Culpepper's excellent figure was poured into her low cut, fitted dress, but it was more than simple sex appeal that caught my attention. Catherine carried notes and didn’t fall off key once. The quick comparison to Deborah Harry is rooted in the actual talent of her abilities more so than the similarity in appearance, despite Catherine’s good looks and golden locks. The orientation of the band provided an interesting relationship between guitarist and keyboardist. Without a second guitarist, the two came together to harmonize during rhythm sections, which provided a more consistent role for keyboardist Shawn King as one of the band's driving forces. But it was the immense skill and sense of timing between bassist Tev Casterline and drummer Aaron Carroll, which kept the beat together and intact.
After all was said and done I ran into Catherine while on my way to the bathroom line. A few simple words were shared as we parted ways. Ironically, it was then that I remembered I had decided not to wear any underwear. In my haste to make it on time, I had forfeited several pairs of dirty boxers in favor of a much more free experience. Why not? It's summer time. Coincidentally in my rush to make it in time I had forgotten to zip my fly. An embarrassing discovery, but worth a few god laughs because I don’t think anyone had noticed.
When I reentered the main hall, the lighting had changed and the crowd had thickened, two very good signs that The Caesars were preparing to take stage as the evenings headliner. My neck was cramped slightly from having refused to pull away during the Hong Kong’s superb performance, so as I stretched, I took the time to observe the change in atmosphere. Two psychedelic inspired lights spilled onto a canvas backdrop on either side of the stage. In the center of the canvas a large screen projected a series of seemingly random images that encompassed everything from Mexican wrestlers to space invaders.
A sudden jolt of excitement came over the crowd as the band slipped onto stage via a side door. A slight accent could be heard as they introduced themselves and announced that they were a Swedish band happy to be playing a show in Chicago. The group's popularity has brought them to the brink of mainstream success with their song "Jerk It Out" now playing in the background of the popular iPod Shuffle commercials. The group has taken some new risks with their most recent album, attempting to tastefully step away from their garage sound while not losing their wildly energetic rock & roll edge.
Hands down, these boys give one of the best live performances either you or I have ever seen, and yet they stay so charmingly modest about their abilities. The well-mannered Swedes have the best crowd interaction I’ve ever seen, and go the extra mile to get hand clapping and head shaking. The Caesars exert an incredible amount of energy, providing an audience with something more than you could ever get with just a recording. Seeing this band live is an experience. The band's lengthy set list was a 45-minute expedition into their unique breed psychedelic ‘60s rock & roll. But the real treat came at the end, when the band returned to play a two-song encore, which included the infinitely excellent cover of the Cure classic "Boys Don’t Cry". The Hong Kong and The Caesars are collaborating on a series of tour dates this summer and heating things up where ever they stop.