It's 9:45 pm on Monday night and I just paid eight bucks to a cab driver because the brakes on my car are shot and I haven't had the time or the cash to get them fixed yet. Oh yea, and it's raining (sort of hard). On a regular Monday evening, either one of these obstacles might be enough to deter me from attending a rock & roll show in the Windy City (lord knows I've seen enough and typically I end up coming to the conclusion that my night would have been better served watching "24" episodes from Netflix and doing laundry). I'm sort of a puss when it comes to Mondays and/or paying for taxis when I have a (normally) perfectly good automobile... but not tonight. Tonight a band is in town that I might love - The Fever. I know for sure that I love their new album, In The City Of Sleep. In fact, I basically professed my undying love for it a couple weeks ago right here while tossing out words like "genius," "dynamic," "imaginative" and "masterpiece."
Granted, at the time I was on a beach sipping a margarita while typing out one of the most positive reviews of my career, and this in itself might account for some of the blind optimism. But the thing is, today, after a week of working 12 hour days trying to climb over the mountain of work that is the annual post-SXSW hell week, after going from a beach in Mexico to sub-freezing temperatures in a cement-covered city, and after listening to the album an additional 13 times, I still think In The City Of Sleep can be summed up by those four words listed in quotes above. The big question is the live set, right? When I love a band (or I think I do) I walk into the venue where said band is playing praying to god that they don't suck. Don't you?
Anyway, I grab a drink from the bar (Red Bull and vodka, cuz I'm sorta lethargic) and try to weave my way to the front of the venue without spilling. There's no time to waste, as Geremy Jasper (vocals), Keith Stapleton (guitar), J Ruggiero (organ) and Achilles Tzoulafis (drums) have just started into "Curtains," the 57-second instrumental intro to their new album that the band is sure to play a billion more times at the beginning of every show before the year is over. Jasper is dressed in the same suit he was wearing at the band's official showcase in Austin and without an introduction begins belting out the opening lines of "Redhead." He lowers the mic stand until his microphone is about three feet off the ground and bends down, hunching over with his hair covering his face as he sings the last verse and chorus of the song. The sound is good. The band is tight. There's a really drunk guy at the front of the stage and he seems to be rattling Jasper a bit. The guy is dancing like a madman/crack head even though it's pretty clear that he's never heard a single Fever song (a hunch solidified when he began telling the band to "fucking [gibberish] fucking [more gibberish] fuck..." and was then escorted away from the stage by security).
As the fantastically creepy and psychedelic "Waiting For The Centipede" begins, I realize that he's the Lizzard King and I'm quickly becoming one of his subjects.
As the band breaks into "Ladyfingers," one of only two songs from their debut album that they would play all night, I start to wonder if Jasper isn't completely wasted (or possibly on a hallucinogenic drug). If he was on coke in Austin (i.e. aggressive, conversational and extroverted on stage), then he is definitely on shrooms (i.e. introverted and overly suspicious of every other human being in the universe) in Chicago. For the record, I have no idea if he actually does drugs, I'm just trying to put his overall vibe into a context that you people will understand (druggies).
As the set wears on, he seems to be having a struggle within his own mind. He continually pulls down on his left coat pocket and seems to be digging for something. He spends just as much time hunched over or with his back to the stage as he does pointing his finger at the audience and stomping his foot along to the beat of the kick drum. As the fantastically creepy and psychedelic "Waiting For The Centipede" begins, I realize that he's the Lizzard King and I'm quickly becoming one of his subjects. With a look on his face that borders on insanity, a twitch of the shoulder, a rub of the hand through his un-kept long hair, Jasper's eyes peer out into a desolate cave in the desert and reveal a weird naked Indian and a mountain lion (apparently when I vaguely mention Jim Morrison, I actually mean Val Kilmer's portrayal of Jim Morrison in the Oliver Stone-directed The Doors, but you get the idea. I hear that was pretty accurate anyway).
The set reflects the peaks and valleys of Jasper's trip and the band ends their set with "Mr. Baby" and "Little Lamb & The Shiny Silver Bullets." His inner torture remains evident, but Jasper's intensity builds and builds, ending with a dramatic and enthusiastic sing-a-long. "Shiny silver bullets go to your head / they go to your head / they go to your head," he shouts as those of us in the audience who "get it" all sing along in adoration. Then, just as quickly as they started, they bolt out. I do the same, confident in the fact that I called these guys geniuses... mad geniuses might be more accurate, but geniuses nonetheless.