Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Infernals, not Journey or Night Ranger, Play the Gallery Cabaret (and they're not the band Foreigner either...)

Truthfully, I do make mistakes on occasion. Some of those mistakes are benign (“I swear, ma’am, I have no idea what you’re talking about; I think your breasts were staring at me”); others transcend the boundaries of the social compact (“I did say ‘Watch out for that truck’ dear; you just weren’t listening closely enough”). Whatever the case, while I am probably closer to perfection than anyone else on the face of the earth, I do fall somewhat short of perfection itself, and have never claimed otherwise. Which is sort of like perfection, isn’t it? It totally is. Yeah. That's right. So I am perfect after all.

With this particular mistake, I can only say that I’d had a hell of an afternoon. I’d spent the past few days with my aunt and uncle in cosmopolitan Jackson, Michigan, taking in the sights, culture and je ne sai quoi of the downtown area, which was delightful enough, only to get a reminder text from my Concert Watch calendar app: “This weekend—Journey, Foreigner, Night Ranger. Retrospective piece due. –Ed.”

Ed. is, of course, my editor, and Journey, Foreigner, et al…well, if you don’t know them, then I’m surprised you can even stand upright, much less read this. But that reminder said it all: I had a big concert to attend this weekend, and a piece to write about the show that would be so easy to compose, it would make Megan Fox look like a Puritan’s daughter. So there was no time to waste: I was on the next train to the city. Which left after an hour’s delay. And then there was another hour stuck on the tracks due to a bridge accident. And another ten minutes waiting for the pizza-faced teenager sharing a seat with me to wake up from his dope-induced coma long enough to grab his bag and get out of my way. So if I didn't have all my particulars about the upcoming act committed to memory (like what band I was seeing and where it was and what year it was, etc.), I could hardly be blamed.

Outside the station, I glanced at the address on my phone and gave it to my cabbie, who did a three-point U-turn on Jackson without so much as glancing around, rambling into his own cell phone the entire way in Kenyan, stomping on the accelerator and rushing towards my destination while I buried myself in the Chicago Tribune to see what I’d missed these many days away. Teachers, I noted in an op ed piece, are still to blame for our nation’s intellectual and economic deficit. Good. I didn’t miss much.

I got to my venue: The Gallery Cabaret, in Bucktown. Not the sort of place a bunch of eighties bands would have sought out, I thought, but then again, I’m always underestimating the lure of nostalgia. I walked in, ready to Not Stop Believing, to be Sung Away, to Know What Love Is and, if I was lucky, get Hot Blooded.

Instead, I saw guitarist Chris Dewey on stage, yodeling lyrics that are still, this many hours later, bouncing around in my head:
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, there’s a hole
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a fucking hole…
Next to Dewey, bassist Bryan Park was not so much playing an upright bass as he was pleasuring powerful riffs out of it, and drummer Leo Salinas’ arms were a blur of motion as he kept the pace steady on what I’d thought was a lighthearted children’s song:
The axe is too dull and the straw is too long, dear Liza
I didn’t sign on for this shit my Liza, oh Liza…
The first thing that occurred to me: Man, Journey’s really gone the grunge/folk route, haven’t they?

The next thing: Oh wait, this is The Infernals show! The Journey concert is tomorrow night.

The next thing after that: Wait…I’m supposed to cover this show.

The very next thing, and the last I can remember for a while: Shit. I need a drink.


The Infernals got their start, like every other garage band in the northwest suburbs, in my garage. Park and Dewey were doing introspective moody pieces in their own bands prior to 2007: Park had spent time in an ensemble called Dead People’s Pants until the lead singer signed a record deal in North Carolina and took his microphone stand with him when he left. This effectively left Park on a solo career that never really got off the ground since he couldn’t play bass and hold the microphone at the same time. Dewey and Park later joined the retro-grunge-punk act The Limping Dogs, and after a triumphant debut last year, dissolved when they lost one member to marriage and another member to a glue-sniffing rehab clinic. Such are the trials of suburban musicians. It’s not for the faint of heart.

From the ashes of these ruins, molded by drummer Salinas and crystallized with a recently-discovered book of Children's Camp Songs, came the Infernals, who promise, true to their advertising, to be infernal. And oh how they deliver. Drawing on previous material and relying on a curled-lip-of-derision ethos, the trio manages to blend folk music and their own immutable truculence into a forty-minute crowd-pleasing set that draws fans of the obscene and the traditional alike. After the show, I stuck around partly to get quotes, but mostly because I couldn’t remember where I was and wanted directions to the red light district.

“The genesis of our work sprung from a rereading of Nietzsche,” Dewey was saying to one potential signing agent, gazing at him in what I took to be rapt fascination while he checked his watch and scanned the crowd desperately. “The way he completely articulated the angst of the modern human was something we felt wasn’t adequately represented in modern music.”

“Hey Dewey!” Park yelled from the other side of the bar. “Come over here and pull my finger!”

I took a note: “Band has synergy.”

“Of course, Nietzsche had it right when he said ‘God is gay,’ Dewey continued to the agent. “He was also on to something when he talked about a tree falling in the woods making no sound, and…you know, that thing about the lotus tree. So that’s where we came up with our interpretation of ‘The Cat Came Back.’”

“I think you’re talking about a different philosophy,” the man said, pulling out his own cell phone and pretending to take a call.

Dewey looked annoyed. “Hey, pal, who’s the one who just played the song? Me, all right? So don’t get airs.” He paused. “Anyway, when can we get our first million?”

I made another note: “Dewey makes the business decisions.”

Salinas, meanwhile, was signing autographs towards the front. Park approached him, finger outstretched, a pleading look on his face. Salinas sighed, complied, and looked over at me threateningly. As if to warn me, If you print that I just did that, no one will ever find your remains.

I nodded in understanding. He flipped fingers towards his eyes, and then towards me. Point taken. I scribbled in my pad: “Stay in safe house after publication.”

Before I could go, however, I had to get that one quote that encapsulates a band’s attitude, artistic motivation and overall level of sobriety. The kind of quote that totally finishes off a shitty article in an unread music rag that was dashed off on four hours’ sleep and a bad burrito. Thankfully, I had a pad full of preprepared softball questions that would surely elicit the kind of tripe I needed to cash in my piece and get a night’s sleep. And maybe a chance to cop a feel, which, I won’t lie, would have been nice. I glanced over at Park and noticed that he had by now had amassed a bevy of beauties willing and eager to pull his finger until the sun came up.

I went over to him. “Mr. Park, I wonder if you could tell me how your band managed to transform the more mainstream sound of your earlier album Infinity into the mainstream, but totally original and inspirational Escape of 1981?”

Park blinked at me. “What?”

I looked again at my notes: these were for tomorrow’s interview with Steve Perry. Crap. That meant I’d have to retool my entire piece, as I’d taken my notes based on the idea that I was watching a Monsters of Rock concert down at Tinley Park instead of these ass-clowns.

Still, Park looked pretty far gone: maybe he’d answer the question anyway. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to do any more prep work than I already had. So I waited.

He blinked again, downed his drink, slammed it on the bar, and regarded me with bleary cunning. “I think music…should sound good,” he proclaimed.

Okay, one down. I transcribed his quote and wheeled over to Salinas, free at the moment, consulting my notes for the Night Ranger interview tomorrow. Eh. Close enough.

“Mr. Salinas, can you tell me more about the emotion you’re trying to convey in ‘Sister Christian’? Does the line ‘What’s your price for flight’ get into anything religious, or does it have more to do with social mobility in the then-booming American economy?”

Salinas stared at me levelly, and I realized uneasily that I was standing in the presence of pure malevolence. “I saw you write down what I told you not to,” he said in a menacing whisper that would have done Hannibal Lecter proud. “I’m telling you now so that, when you don’t wake up in the morning, you know why.”


I did my best not to squeal and scamper away, and found Dewey towards the back, tuning his guitar and muttering to himself. “How was I supposed to know it was just a guy in a suit? Could have been an agent. Get an agent some day. Make millions. Get revenge on everybody…”

“Hello, Mr. Dewey,” I interrupted him.

He glared at me. “What do you want?”

“Oh, nothing much. Just a quick quote, if you don’t mind.” We were old friends, so I sat down next to him, figuring his look of disgust and contempt was just old-friends-kidding-around-like. “So. First, can you tell me what it’s like working with the legendary Mick Jones?”

“Who’s that?”

“Or how you managed to so successfully capitalize on your single ‘Say You Will’ without descending into eighties power ballad cliché? I mean, that was pure marketing genius.”

“Our single what?

“Okay, okay.” I sighed, scowled unhappily, and grudgingly prepared an original question. “Mr. Dewey. Just how much do you guys rock the house?”

He smiled happily. “If we were an army, our music would be the Shot Heard Round the World, man.”

Okay. All right. Not bad. I wrote it down and prepared to leave.

“Which is, of course, how the Germans entered World War II and conquered Australia,” he continued. “Now as to Nietzsche’s role in all of this…”

And as I guzzled beer and listened to a history lesson that would have made Cliff from Cheers suffer an aneurism, I realized that these guys were going places. I don’t know what places, or whether these places are hospitable or remotely appealing, but whatever they are, I’m sure there will be plenty of wine, women, song, German philosophy and holes-in-buckets to go all around. Find their website. Come see them play the church picnic next weekend. Pull Park’s finger. Join the revolution.

And protect me from Salinas. I think he's having me followed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Own Little Book and Film Club Discussion

Aaron and I found, coincidentally enough, that we'd seen the same movies and read the same books within a couple of days of each other. So, after rousing ourselves from our respective summer lethargy and hangovers, we met yesterday afternoon at a local coffeehouse to have a rousing, inspiring intellectual discussion of the works in question. (Note: for convenience's sake, I have assumed his middle initial begins with an "S".)
1 p.m.

GJL: Ugh.
ASS: Yeah. No more tequila shooters on Sunday nights.
GJL: So, that book?
ASS: What book?
GJL: You know, maybe we'd better do this tomorrow.

Twenty-four hours later...

GJL: So, I understand you finally finished The Average American Male, by Chad Kultgen?
ASS: Yeah. It was stupid.
GJL: I think so too. Although I did find a couple nuggets of humor towards the end--
ASS: No you didn't. It was totally worthless.
GJL: Well I really think that...
ASS: It sucked. Let's go back to the bar.

Two hours later...

GJL: What about that movie we both saw? You know...
ASS: Tree of Life?
GJL: That one. I thought it was a rollicking tour de force that is completely unparalleled in this summer's commercial- and merchandise-driven drool.
ASS: I too believe it to tower over all the Hollywood drivel saturating the local cinemas like a clogged public toilet.
GJL: Well then. There you go.
ASS: When did you see it?
GJL: I didn't.
ASS: Me neither.
GJL: Let's play pool.

Thirty minutes later...

ASS: So let me get this straight: You think Don DeLillo's novels are overrated hash--
GJL: Yep.
ASS: But you also believe that J.J. Abrams is underrated?
GJL: His filmic references are intuitive and insightful.
ASS: He doesn't do references. He rips off other movies. Because he's got all the cinematic imagination of a pile of rocks.
GJL: Well maybe you're a pile of rocks.
ASS: Also, you scratched off the eightball. I win. You owe me another twenty dollars.

Two minutes later...

ASS: Gumph! Gumph burmph!
GJL: Sorry Aaron, but I don't understand what you're saying. You'll have to take that eightball from out of your throat.
ASS: Ughm fumh!
GJL: Right. Guess that's hard to do with your arms broken and a pool cue up your ass. Well, I'm out of here. I'm going to go watch Super 8 again and take careful note of his homages to Steven Spielberg. What are you going to do?
ASS: Urrrrrm...
GJL: Bleed on the floor and pass out? Sounds great.

"Don DeLillo blows. Now how can I make him realize this? Hmm..."

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Upon Sighting a Toilet on a Ledge"

One foot on the floor
And one upon the ledge
Keeps me leveraged sure
While doing my business.
That's right. In Sevierville, Tennessee, in Dolly Parton's home town, there's a local bar with good food and cheap drinks. Its main bathroom has a toilet that's on a ledge. I have some ideas on why it's like this, but I don't want to gross anyone out...