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Tuesday, December 12

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Concert Mon Nov 22 2010

Review: Dastardly @ Metro 11/12

Although emerging Chicago band Dastardly has rightfully received some early critical acclaim for its unique blend of melodic roots with quasi-angstful experimentation, the band's self-description is as accurate as any: "Hear a man croon and howl about death, booze and love over a band that seems to understand what he's going on about; harmonious voices and instruments of the past collide with a confused and desperate present." Despite the early successes of his band, front man Gabe Liebowitz was jittery about their breakthrough first gig at the revered Metro. During the days leading up to the show, friends of the band's Facebook page could follow the charming chronicle of his pre-gig nightmares ("showing up onstage naked and our drummer puking during the first song. Have at it, aspiring psychologists!") and dreams ("I was hired by the Chicago Trolley Company as chief Muppet advisor...").

When showtime arrived, Liebowitz may have still been nervous, but he had no trouble transferring his nervous energy to a more productive and outwardly frenetic state. The opening track "Villains" began as gently and melodically as a 1930s country ballad, gradually introducing vocal harmonies by accordionist Sarah Morgan, before Andy Taylor's drum rolls thundered the piece to a higher energy as John Humbracht's banjo bled into the mix. The lyrical message wrapped up early in the song ("So I think you should gather yourself another hero/'cause I tried but if you really know me you'd be horrified") just as the electric instruments — Patrick Lyons' guitar and August Sheehy's bass — kicked up the intensity with straight time riffs. By now Liebowitz began to resemble a distant relative of Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson — hopping around the stage and up to the drummer's platform, transferring his energy first to his bandmates and then to the audience. The song built to an instrumental crescendo, before settling into one of the band's signatures — a subdued four part vocal harmony ending a capella.

Still without a word of introduction, the band chugged like a train into "Brief Thoughts on Death," an excellent example of Liebowitz's crafty and self-effacing lyrical style ("Now I would not consider myself a spiritual man/I figure good things come down to who I am/But if I find myself standing in a shit shower/I usually blame it on a higher power"). Morgan joined Taylor on a second snare drum, and later handed a third pair of sticks to Liebowitz. The three snares amplified a marching rhythm until the tune came to its crashing halt and Liebowitz addressed the audience.

"We're going to play our #1 hit, which is featured on Taylor Swift's newest album..." All facetiousness aside, the song "Exercise in Self-Loathing" is perhaps Dastardly's most anthemic tune, featuring the quirky charm of introspective lyrics sung in multi-part harmony ("Now some nights I want to try/But most nights I disappear with the blink of an eye"). By now the band was rewarded by some generous applause, provoking a chiding by Liebowitz ("Stop it!") before he tipped his hat to the next band Chaperone! as well as "Ronald McDonald, curing cancer and giving out free French fries." Dastardly kept up the energy level for a few more songs, until Liebowitz warned the audience, "this one's gonna get a little rowdy, can we please form a kill pit up front?" While fans murmured about the possible meaning of a kill pit (an evolution of the mosh pit?), the Metro's numerous security guards (i.e., the only ones in attendance facing in the wrong direction and doing their best to appear not to have a good time) reassuringly stood by unblinking. The lack of panic was justified; the next tune might've been classified as grunge polka but didn't incite violence of any sort. Dastardly's set closed out with a piece featuring accordionist Sarah Morgan on lead vocals.

So Dastardly was just the first of four bands on the bill, but the other acts kept up the good spirits. Most notably, the energetic Miles Doornbos of Chaperone! played his bass as if he were desperately holding on to a wild horse dragging him across the stage. Jon Drake and the Shakes performed a set of dynamic pop tunes featuring nice horn and string arrangements. If Aktar Aktar's set kept up the standard, their only mistake was lining up a full night of good music before they even took the stage.

Chaperone and Dastardly will be sharing a bill on December 9 at Schubas for the release of Dastardly's debut record. Tickets are $6 adv/$8 door, 18+. Music starts at 8:30pm.

-Rob Reid

[About the writer: After creeping out all three bands in the underappreciated '90s New Hampshire "scene" via suffocating journalistic coverage, Rob now occasionally writes about underrecognized Chicago acts that would've been huge in New Hampshire.]

 
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