Three flavors of Punk
Williams is billed as a soft of punk bluesman, a godfather of sorts. I've seen his act advertised as "porn blues" but really, the man is simply a classic, albeit dirty bluesman. He talks dirty (well, dirty for the 1960s where he first made his mark) and that's supposedly his claim to fame. But like all good people who work blue, if you take that away you're still left with a mound of talent and master showman.
After two totally different kinds of punk bands warmed up the crowd of hipsters who packed into the Cactus Club last night, Williams' band, all in black outfits, white shoes and touches of red trim here and there (perfectly tailored, mind you), take the state and play an intro tune, oldschool style and then to the delight of the crowd, Williams makes his way through. He's wearing a three-piece white suit (and the vest is double breasted, mofos) that screamed "Johnny Walkers", looking and strutting like he'd arrived in a 1976 Cadallac Eldorado with a Landau roof. (Nice touch with the spats, Andre). He proceeds to dive into songs that tell us all what a bad mutha he is, how much pussy stank is just like marijuana, and how he begs to just slip it in.
But if that was his entire act, he'd be a tired one-trick pony that would be fun for about two or three songs. That wasn't the case. Frankly, it was early in the set when he poured into a somber blues called "I Can Tell" that he showed his true (and considerable) vocal, stylistic and emotional range. This is a man who's been around, suffered a lot, lived to tell the tale and best of all, still finds the joy of a pretty chick and a twinkle in his eye. What a great fun show, and in his vernacular, an overall satisfying set.
Before his set, Riverwest's The White Faces treated us to some great driving garage rock. They looked liketypical sloppy 90s punks, but had a great driving sound and delivery that bought to mind some old Pebbles compilation. Friends of mine agreed with me that much of this was due to their terrific bass player, who wound his way all over his fretboard through tunes that seemed vaguely familiar, but still fresh. (One moment I was thinking to myself, "Hey, isn't this a Hey Joe ripoff"?) but they fact that the Seeds' version of "Hey Joe" was going in my head should give you an idea of their vibe.
The night started off with the aforementioned Aluminum Knot Eye, easily the most musically interesting (and difficult) band of the night. Their lead singer jumps off the stage, argues ironically (but friendly, not off-putting) with the jaded crowd, and keeps us interested by grabbing a chair and using it as a prop the entire set. But it's not all him. He's backed by a band that clearly has listened to a lot of 80s post-punk, no-wave, but not without melody. Think Richard Hell, Television, maybe even Wire (who were in Chicago last night). Grab a hooky little guitar riff, then play the living daylights out of it a bazillion different ways. the way their singer used the floor, I'm actually glad I saw them at the Cactus -- many of their previous gigs were at the Circle A and I think that place must be really confining to them both physically and musically. You can't make that much no-wave noise without a little breathing room, and the Cactus was the right place to experience them. Overall, a great way to drop a $10spot.
A week ago, I popped into Kochanski's to see the always wonderful Exotics who just get better every time. They get tighter and looser, simultaneously -- both good things. Their mix of surf standards and great instrumental originals are drawing me in further every time. I used to not be their biggest fan -- because I thought they were too tight but they've kept their professionalism, brought in a variety of influences, and loosened up to bring in the things I love (and wax poetic) about surf music. They've added fun schtick (choreographed stage moves, etc) and they're a delight to hear, watch and watch the fans.
Which is way more than I can say about the headliners that night, Chicago's Reluctant Aquanauts. I was led to believe they were amazing and would blow me away. Yes, they were precise. Yes, they played the Ventures' songbook. (I'm not sure they had any originals -- I knew their entire set.) Perfectly. But unlike the Exotics, they were massively stoic. Somebody told me that's part of their schtick -- that the surf bands of the 60s were equally stiff and stoic. I don't buy it. I've seen the Ventures, and stoic is not a term I'd use to describe them. And they were musically too perfect. They put me to sleep. Later I realized exactly what it was. When I hear surf music, I want to feel like I'm on the edge of the abyss. I want to feel like I'm going to get in trouble. I want to feel like I'm still a nice 17 year old Catholic girl who's about to lose her virginity to some boy whose last name she can't even remember. I felt perfectly safe and predictable with the Reluctant Aquanauts. Boo. Thankfully, the Exotics took the stage again in the round-robin style favored at Kochanski's -- so i could once again listen to music that made me feel like I was gonna get in trouble. Becasue that's how I wanted to leave that bar that night.