It's an interesting outing when a live music addict gets to see not one, but two, much talked about bands on one bill. Say Hi To Your Mom's album Impeccable Blahs was released this summer on the band's own Euphobia records. A little pre-show research unveiled that the Brooklyn-based group has released three other albums, although only the new one has people saying their name repeatedly. That name may or may not have been inspired by Keanu Reeves' line in Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure referring to Kim Basinger. The name could also have been a reflection of the American Pie term "milf." According to their website, they are named after "Midwestern dairy queen civility." Bottom line - it's catchy.
Walking into Schubas Tavern is always exciting. The wooden arches over the stage are welcoming, and the finger-smeared plaster on the ceiling is a sort of testament to the number of dedicated musicians and fans that populate the venue on a daily basis. What's more exciting is walking into the music room when it's filled to the brim. The funny thing about Chicago is that local opening bands tend to draw a bigger crowd than many headliners.
Eric Elbogen started the show with the introduction, "We're Say Hi To Your Mom," even though he was the only player on stage. With less people and equipment present, the room felt more open. "These Fangs" was among the first songs played from the new album. Elbogen smirked as he sang, "And I don't mind if you want to hide your fangs too." Those who hadn't read up on the band might not have known that their new album is about vampires (how suiting for a Friday the 13th). Most peoples' first response is to say that's cool, or unique. But is it just a gimmick to get our attention, or is it a more profound statement about human nature and the vampire-like propensities within all of us? Either way, this is the stuff of dreams for college radio stations. There is a shed of Blink 182 in the chord arrangement and general sense of playfulness, but new wave also comes to mind (think of The Knack's "My Sharona").
"Blah Blah Blah" was presented with a fresh quality reminiscent of the Postal Service, as Elbogen vowed to drink our blood over lo-fi electronica beats. "Sad, But Endearlingly So" was the closest the band came to sounding like a typical New York indie rock act. Fortunately, the shadow once cast by the Strokes has now dissipated, making room for many different sounds. One stand-out song not on the new album was "Let's Talk About Spaceships," which appeared on the 2003 album Numbers & Mumbles. The song seemed anchored in the emo craze from earlier this decade, with a fragile manner and lack of confidence that is largely missing on Impeccable Blahs.
Halfway through the show, Elbogen apologized for forgetting the words in a song. He said he usually has other people on stage, and gets a bit nervous alone. It's that endearing quality which draws people to music like this. Elbogen is not a rock star. He's just a guy with a guitar, vocal chords, and a vintage synthesizer. Unfortunately, I couldn't help but think that SHTYM would be more interesting with the backing band. That could be why the crowd slowly dwindled throughout the set.
How sad it was, because Evangelicals were about to drop a bomb of incredible sound on Schubas. The three members led by singer Josh Jones came prepared with decorations and stage props - leafy green vines, red and green flood lights shining up from the floor, and a smoke machine. Stage preparedness should be a given for folks who grew up in Norman, Oklahoma, where the "local band" was the Flaming Lips.
The band played most of the songs from their debut So Gone, which Misra released in June. On "Another Day (And You're Still Knocked Out)," the group switched between high-speed chord changes and drawn-out arpeggios, sometimes taking a silent moment to switch effects pedals. With the red light shining up from below, casting huge shadows on the walls, they resembled elves dancing around a mystical fire. For an unknown reason, Jones wore no shoe or sock on his right foot only.
Songs like "Here Comes Trouble" made obvious that they would benefit from having a fourth member to man the keyboard and synth, instead of putting bassist Kyle Davis on double duty. "Goin Down" had Davis bouncing quickly around his fretboard as Austin Stevens whipped up a storm on the drums. After only 20 minutes of playing, Jones announced that they had two more songs and almost killed the mood. It seems that they have little experience as a headline band up to this point.
Before playing "What An Actress Does Best," Jones told a story about meeting an attractive girl, only to discover too late that she's a transvestite. He claimed the point of the story was to bash dishonesty, not trannies. But for a band who might prefer to be talked about without a mention of the Flaming Lips, there are many inescapable similarities. For one, Jones has a spacey, disjointed method of speech that is a close match to Wayne Coyne's on-stage story-telling. Plus, Evangelicals' free-wheeling, psychedelic rock with country underpinnings is not far off from some of the Lips' work.
The unpredictability of their live show was established early on, but manifested wholly during "Actress." Jones broke a guitar string about 30 seconds in and stopped the band so he could grab a new guitar. That artistic choice prevented the sound from faltering, but it also inspired more people to go home. In fact, by 12:30 am there were only about 20 people left in the audience.
That said, the world might not be ready for Evangelicals. Their music evokes rainbows, waterfalls, and surface tours of the Moon. They are young and full of potential, and they have to learn how to harness all their wild energy into a steady stage performance - but they are definitely a band to watch over the next few years. As a blustery Chicago slowly turns into a winter bedroom community, shows like this will keep things moving. What a shame that only 20 people were up for the ride.
by Nick Meador