The UnRecorded | Live Music: The Smith Westerns, Acrylic, Mickey at Schubas
Posted on April 15, 2010 by Greg
The Smith Westerns, Acrylic, Mickey
Schubas Tavern, Chicago April 10, 2010
We enter the venue before the first band has started and immediately notice a different scene than we are used to at Schubas: lots of underage girls sit on the floor, sipping Cokes, chatting and texting. Clusters of parents stand in the middle of the room, trying not to embarrass their kids. Ah, the all-ages show.
Amid this high school dance atmosphere, I spot a couple of sideburned dudes in black leather jackets custom-painted with the “Mickey” band logo. They look like stock “bad kids” from a 50s high school movie. Moments later, they take the stage and try as hard as possible to live up to that image. Mickey lead singer Mark McKenzie, aka “Mac Blackout” starts the show by leaping into a just-gathered and completely unprepared crowd of teens. He roars in their faces while most of them stand back a little, grinning uncomfortably.
“Mac” races between the stage and the audience for their whole set, barking at teens and moms and trying to mix it up with girls’ boyfriends. He repeatedly approaches an older librarian-looking woman with owlish glasses and screams, “Do you wanna dance with me?” The horrified look on her face says, “No sir, I do not.”
When he has nothing to sing and the band is still playing, Mac looks utterly lost. He paces in front of the stage, staring at his group, willing them to get to the next vocal part. He sprays beer on the audience. He shows off his beer belly. He crawls face-down on the floor. The guitarist keeps crashing to the stage and playing solos on his back, the bassist looks like a corrupted choirboy, and “Christmas,” the shirtless, mustachioed drummer seems about 20 years older than the rest of Mickey. They would make one hell of a reality TV show.
They’re pretty good, too… Chicago guys who sound like a blend of Motley Crue, Poison and the Dropkick Murphys played by monkeys on crack. I was never bored. And: they never flung their poo at us.
Mickey is followed by the New York band Acrylic, who couldn’t be more different. They are a low-key, earnest collection of music-first people, dressed in thrift store clothes and playing country-and-folk-inflected pop. No stripping or stage dives, just beautiful committed music punctuated here and there with pedal steel guitar (I am a big fan of the pedal steel.) The male and female leads trade guitars and vocals effortlessly throughout. I hear hints of The Replacements, Ryan Adams, Rainer Maria and 10,000 Maniacs, but they manage to avoid sounding too much like anyone. They mix it up a lot, alternating between pop, rock, country, folk, sometimes in the same song. I hope to hear more from them, they were my favorite act of the night.
The Smith Westerns
Which brings us to The Smith Westerns. These are Chicago kids who have been playing shows since their teenage years. Cullen Omori and brother Cameron are a pair of lanky, long-haired dudes that make the teen girls scream as soon as they walk out. A giddy girl climbs on the stage and starts drumming on a stage amp. The girl next to me steals Cullen’s set list four songs into the set. Another girl puts a dollar in her mouth and tries to get two of the band members to take it from her; they refuse, and she eventually crams it into Cullen’s front pocket.
They are decent performers, but definitely not meriting all the screaming. They play light versions of glam rock, garage rock and 60s pop. Very accessible. They seem completely relaxed onstage, sometimes to the point of being sloppy. The vocals aren’t too forceful, the licks are a little messy; sometimes the guys just seem to be goofing around. Guitarist Max Kakacek has his own personal mirror and light rig to spotlight himself during solos. Silly.
Also, they play just over a half an hour (encore included), which is extremely light for a headliner. It seems like they aren’t really up for the show tonight. At the end of their set, they don’t leave the stage, but stand there fiddling around and looking uncomfortable. They tell the girls in the crowd to start a chant or they won’t play an encore (after a 28-minute set.) Finally, they grudgingly play the song “My Heart” that the girls have been screaming for. But they seem a little bothered by the whole process.
These guys have an ear for hooks, and their lyrics are clever enough, but from what I saw, the buzz about them is a little premature. I look forward to seeing them at Pitchfork, where they will have to bring their A-game or face the yawns of drunk hipsters. Then we’ll get to see if these guys are just an indie “boy band” or one to watch out for. I’m guessing (and hoping) it’s the latter.
–Greg from The UnCool
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