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Review Tue Nov 03 2015

Mars and the Massacre Takes Subterranean's First Floor Up A Level


After getting the chance to interview Mars and the Massacre last week and checking out their YouTube material, I was fully prepared for anything as I walked into Subterranean. Anything, that is, except for the show taking place on the ground floor, which only began operating as a stage earlier this year. Lacking the overhanging balconies of the venue's classic stage, the first floor of Sub-T feels less cramped and more casual--one of those spaces that's more like a bar with music than music at a bar. By the end of the evening, though, Mars and the Massacre had done one of the hardest things a band can do at this type of venue: they had lured most of the patrons right up to the stage.

The show opened with two local acts that showcased solid potential. Spaces of Disappearance, consisting of singer Elaine Davis, her keyboard, and her laptop, led off with a set of aggressively droning future-club music that seemed straight out of a hypothetical opium den in Johnny Mnemonic. Davis' beats pumped out at a much faster pace than her emotive vocals, which came with a pained grimace and sounded like a more drug-friendly Gwen Stefani. The reverb that laced her voice made the lyrics hard to pick out, but "Dick Cheney in the Light" is a phrase that stands out even in muddy, mostly hook-less sonic waters. While Davis has a distinctive aesthetic pinned down both musically and lyrically, I think her performance would have benefitted from her completely ditching the keyboard and just singing mic in hand the entire time--the simple synth lines she played could have been programmed easily, and watching her play them took away from the engaging dance-punk energy she exuded when she focused on vocals only.


Soddy Daisy took the stage next and really impressed me with seven or so lo-fi garage pop songs. They had a Beatles-esque setup with singer/guitarist Maureen Neer and singer/bassist Joey Eichler flanking non-singer/guitarist Christian Swofford, who used his freedom to walk over to the side of the stage and sip his drink from a straw while playing. In a word, Soddy Daisy's set was fun, coating oftentimes dark lyrical material with the blitheness of jangly guitar chords, shimmery vocal harmonies, and excellent solos by Neer and Swofford. Among the highlights of the set was a song introduced as being about a German nihilist, with Eichler speaking actual German in a panicked tone before the band hit gleeful three-part harmonies on the line, "I wish I had died before I was born." From the sheer joy of Neer's tambourine-shimmying on "Go" to the slow-dance retro 1950s bliss of "WEAK Radio," Soddy Daisy promised escape through musical prowess and delivered.


Finally, it was time for Mars and the Massacre, whose three members had painted their eyes black to look like Zorro. I was interested to see lead singer Pete Doherty start out behind the drums. He and Ethan Walden switch between drums and bass with ease, and would do so halfway through the set, which essentially created two different Mars and the Massacres. With Doherty behind the kit and Walden on bass--each one's more natural instrument--the first three songs featured more rhythmic complexities and relied heavily on interesting grooves that grew more intense whenever Walden would activate the distortion on his bass. Doherty managed to sing perfectly even while banging out intricate rhythms, his vocals heavily laden with effects. Meanwhile, guitarist John Newell filled out the band's sound with an assortment of loop pedals that created an army of chords and melodies, over which he laid Jimmy Page-influenced solos.


When Doherty and Walden changed spots, though, Mars and the Massacre entered a new stratosphere of energy. Free to move around on stage, Doherty manically attacked the bass and his vocals became a centerpiece of the music. "Basset Case," the title track off the band's forthcoming album, featured an excellent, crazed outro jam that segued nicely into the peak insanity and catchiest moment of the set, "R.L. Stine Ate My Sandwich." The most memorable performance, though, came on "Blackout." Doherty casually strolled over to his amp, picked up a bottle of fake blood, and ritualistically poured it all over his face as Newell started some sample loops before using a bow on his guitar. The song featured a long, slow build, mostly ambient vocals, and a rising tension that turned heads all over Subterranean and engaged the crowd more effectively than anything that had happened all night. At the climax, with most of the attendees right up against the stage, Doherty and Newell chanted the line "We are so fucking drunk" over and over, an explosion of the faux-inebriated ecstasy that perfectly defines what Mars and the Massacre represents as a band. After "Blackout," Doherty and Walden made one final switch and settled in for "Re Pete," which felt like a post-coital cigarette.

There's a reason Mars and the Massacre was a finalist for LA Weekly's Best Live Band award last year--their songs aren't full of hooks, but their body of work as a whole is a cosmic journey to the deepest recesses of space and the human mind. Exploring that space with them last night left me more enlightened and certainly more in touch with my crazier instincts.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


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Alarm Magazine
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Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
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Dark Jive
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Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
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Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
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Theft Liable to Prosecution
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