A Taste Of Chicago At The Black Cat
Chin Up Chin Up, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin Feb. 22
It was a mild day when the Chin Ups arrived in D.C., but by show time, a cold, strong wind had kicked up and was quickly dropping the temperature. By the end of the show, even this bunch of Midwest boys was uncomfortable standing outside for very long. And the band's music is definitely a Chicago sound, but not the Chicago sound. Post rock has been the rage in Chicago for years, now, but unfortunately so many of the bands that have adopted that sound in the new millennium are mediocre at best. The Chin Ups have that post rock in their pockets, but their songs are poppier, not as experimental and follow more conventional song structures, which makes them more listenable to a wider audience.
And a larger audience was at this show than at their last backstage gig a few short months ago. For a time, the bar even posted sold out signs on the front door and the door to the backstage, until the strict Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin fans left and opened up the room again. But while the signs were posted, those D.C.-based Chin Up Chin Up superfans, who've gone to all of the band's dates backstage and watched the following swell, were tickled to see such a crowd, even if it made the room uncomfortable.
The extra bodies made the sound in the muddy backstage much better, though still not good enough to really capture the band's texture and layers -- no one plays any filler, everyone is doing something interesting when they're playing. The band led off with one of their signature songs, "Collide The Tide," a catchy song despite the tricky rhythms and unexpected directions that made the debut full-length, "We Should Have Never Lived Like We Were Skyscrapers," so compelling. A new fan favorite, "Islands Sink" from last year's "This Harness Can't Ride Anything," followed and got the heads bobbing. Like many of the songs on the new record, "Islands Sink" moves a step faster and rocks a notch harder than most of the first album. Later, an old favorite, "F.U., Elton John," put mischievous smiles on the faces of the fans who've been with the Chin Ups from the beginning.
The title tracks from the band's two full lengths are a couple of the finest songs the band plays, and both we're displayed here. "Skyscrapers" perfectly captures the band's restlessness, and this night, the pace seemed quicker, like the boys are chasing down that vibe. "Harness" is a perfect album opener, alternating light post rock dexterity with near-bombastic crescendos. And both songs shook butts.
Another signature tune, "Falcons and Vulcans," brought the set to a close before, lo and awe, the Chin Ups returned for their first-ever Black Cat encore. Honestly, how could they leave D.C. without playing "Virginia Don't Drown"? One of the catchier tunes from the debut, and one with a great buildup, and one that this area can take literally while the rest of the country can only enjoy it figuratively. The show, after all, was only a 15-minute drive from Alexandria, which floods every time two people flush their toilets at the same time.
Overall, the bad sound of the backstage didn't hamper the set too much. Jeremy Bolen's wavering and gritty hoarse whisper did become a bit inaudible at times, which still sounds fine and works well with the music, but the newbies miss out on some of the poetry, and those words are just as essential as that music. Overcompensation on the bass after the first song threw the sound off balance at times, but the full room kept the sound from getting lost in the ceiling.
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin played a promising opening set, though one that didn't quite live up to the band's name. The music is a good fit with Chin Up Chin Up, though a bit more lighthearted and less defined. It's more of a standard pop rock sound without a vocalist as compelling as Bolen. It's a more fresh-faced (read: less experienced) group of musicians still trying to solidify their identity and identify their messages. But they tour a lot -- they were just at American University a couple of months ago and they're coming back to open at the 9:30 Club soon -- and they should be able turn heads if they keep after it.