Yesterday turned out to be a marathon. It started waking up late for a beverage meeting for the place I work in Logan Square, so I got up, showered and ran out the door. As it turned out, we were tasting through the cocktails on the menu and talking about each one in depth. Which is how it came to be that the first thing I found myself ingesting that day was a Pisco Punch at 1pm. Next came two different styles of daiquiris – one with Lemon Hart 151 and Orange and Myrrh bitters, another a play on a classic Hemingway with sencha instead of water and nigori sake. After an hour of this, those of us who had the rest of the day off got to the point where we said, “Why not keep going?” So after hanging out in the Square for a little while, we headed to Longman & Eagle for a drink, and then walked down to check out this new place Scofflaw – which I can now attest is a great new cocktail bar. Anyway, after a round or two there, it was time for me to run off to Schubas; I had to be there at 7 o’clock so I could interview The Cribs (the results of which will follow at a later but imminent date).
After almost an hour in the dressing room downstairs, it was time for me to resurface and let Gary (poor fellow, I kept him from eating – “I like to be articulate, and it’s just rude to have a mouthful of food, isn’t it?”) have his dinner. On the way up I met up with Jason Stollsteimer, whom many know from his days in The Von Bondies , and whose band for the last three years or so has been The Hounds Below. We caught up for a minute; I’d seen The Hounds at The Lager House in Detroit very early on, and we also had all seen The Cribs the last time they played in Ferndale. I had also seen The Von Bondies on what must have been their last tour at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor – still one of my favorite venues, and I like to think not just for sentimental reasons (Kurt Cobain called it his favorite venue in the world after the Bleach tour). The Hounds Below have gone through quite an evolution since their inception – though much of it is very recent. In fact, the show at Schubas is the current lineup’s 12th together. They’ve also thrown out all the old songs. At The Lager House, it was a five-piece (two guitars, bass, drums, and organ) with a rotating cast of horns and strings, playing 50s-inspired songs with a distinctive Detroit edge. They filled a niche that no one else was even thinking about. I still have the 7” double-a-side I bought that night of “Two Step” and “Crawling Back to You.” Jason and I chatted about the music industry, finding success when you’re older than you look (particularly regarding Franz Ferdinand), and the glories of jazz drummers in rock and roll. He also told me that the new lineup has a very different sound from the Hounds’ previous incarnation. “You’ll have to tell me what you think afterwards – I want feedback!” Jason also reiterated something I touched on in my interview with Gary a couple weeks ago: that it’s incredibly satisfying to play in front of people who have no idea who you are. “If I had it my way, we’d only play for 20 minutes. We don’t have a record out and nobody knows any of the songs.” That’s good in a way, though: “When you get to a certain point, people are just waiting to hear ‘that one song.’ In the old lineup, we’d do a cover of ‘Crawling Back to You,’ and we sort of got known for it, people started expecting it, so we stopped doing it. Maybe for an encore or something, but that’s it.” It is a great version, I contest. And by the way, it’s worth looking up. (Or maybe I could just do it for you.) He offers me a drink ticket – “We have to drive home tonight” – and then it’s time for them to head on stage.
I pick up a Two-Hearted with the ticket and head into the back myself. A few minutes later The Hounds take the stage, and start off with – well, apparently they didn’t start completely from scratch, because this one I know. “All My Fault” is a fantastic, rollicking track from the old EP and a song I heard at The Lager House two years ago. The drums are set at a gallop as a gently descending guitar line starts, and the whole song builds slowly until it tears into the callback chorus of “You say it’s all my fault! (You say it’s all my fault!)” A great start to the night. The following songs are universally good, universally gritty, universally Detroit garage rock. That said – and I told this to Jason at the end of the night – this is the type of music I love to listen to, but The Hounds have given up some of their distinctness with this new direction. They’re down to a four-piece (no organ), so organ-heavy pieces like “Crawling Back to You” simply wouldn’t work. But it’s also because, whereas Jason wanted to do slower, ballad-type songs at first (“Cumberland’s Crumbling,” e.g.), he’s gravitated since back to the fast-paced, garage/rock/indie vibe. I’m not complaining, per se, and his love of 50s music still comes through. I guess I just loved the old Hounds because, like I said, no one else was really doing what they did. All that notwithstanding, they’re an awesome band and make really fun music. “Before The Strokes, everyone was dancing. Now it’s harder for people to dance. So we just want to make music that gets people moving again.” When I told Jason I almost called out for “Two Step,” he replied, “You should have! I totally would have played it. We were planning on it anyway, but we ran out of time. But it’s only two minutes, I totally would have played it.” Ah, well! Next time.
After the set, the Cribs’ roadie Chris starts setting them up. The room gets more and more crowded. A couple joins the kids in front of me, asking how the opener was. We all start talking about the band – the two who were around for the Hounds really dug them – and one of them ends up being from a suburb of Detroit, so we start talking about the city and how it’s doing and its killer music scene. But then cheers erupt as the lights dim and The Cribs climb on stage. “We’re The Cribs and we’re a bunch of Moshers from England!” calls Ryan, and they break into new track “Chi-Town,” a song about Ryan’s time in the city before the band was signed. The crowd, expectedly, eats it up. After the song finishes Ryan tells us that he really loves Chicago – even though it sounds like pandering. “But I really mean it. I love this city.” He almost lived here before the band got signed, and he says “I still think about that situation every day.” Gary quips, “If you hadn’t worn that badge that says ‘In Need of Weed’ at the airport you might live here.” “But I’m in need of weed…!” retorts Ryan. (The “situation” he mentions is something we’ll get into when I finish editing the interview I did with.)
They then address the elephant that’s in the room. So, last time they were on tour, they had another guitar player, the legendary Johnny Marr. But now with only Ryan, he has to play both parts. “Does that not make me twice as good as Johnny Marr, then?” he jokes. The boys launch into lead single from Ignore the Ignorant, “Cheat on Me.” And at this point it needs to be addressed: do the songs from the last album stack up, with them as a three piece? And you know what? They do. With some caveats. The guitar interplay that was so creative and vivid and alive and exciting is obviously gone. But Ryan can play the parts, and the sheer excitement of the three brothers being just that again, the enthusiasm they put into each and every song, overshadows any drawbacks. You could say in a way that the show without Johnny Marr is a bit less cerebral – that is, you don’t have that back-and-forth, that interplay I mentioned; instead it’s passion and spit and rock and roll. Which is not to say that’s something the band lacked on the last tour. But it’s heavy in the room.
Now, I need to have a moment of honesty here. My notes for the show are not extensive. I don’t have a set list, I don’t have detailed descriptions of anything. I don’t even have events in chronological order: just scribbles over several random pages in my notebook. Because when you’re watching one of your top two favorite bands play, you don’t really want to bust out the notebook too often, do you? So you’ll have to pardon me if things get a bit choppy here. I can’t promise events to take place in their so-called “actual” chronological order. But I can tell you about the rest of the concert.
It was wicked. After “Cheat on Me” and “Men’s Needs,” the boys busted out their new single, “Come On, Be a No One,” “our latest pop song to hit the charts,” grins Ryan. “Stop bragging,” Gary reprimands. What follows is possibly Ryan’s most personal song to date, and as good as the recording is, it’s a sight live. Ryan thrashing about on stage, Gary and Ross keeping everything locked down solid, the slightly dissonant Pixies-style guitar part in the prechorus never ceasing to be breezily cool.
Gary’s switched shirts from the interview. I ran into him before he went on and he excused himself, saying he needed to change. He had on “the same shirt I wore for Lollapalooza, I don’t want people to think I only have one shirt.” Instead he’s opted for a Dead Trees shirt – the opening support on their last tour, and a fantastic band in their own rights.
The Cribs have mixed up their old standards a bit, adding intros to keep us guessing and keep things interesting for themselves. One from Ryan seems to strike at the heart of his recent tribulations – “Stop crying in secret,” he pleads, “You one day will die.” It’s so simple, yet so concise and wonderfully to the point. Much like his lyric from the new single, “I was trying so hard / to enjoy everything / I ended up / enjoying nothing.” It’s so matter-of-fact and yet too earnest and too real to fall into a cliché. Another intro of his is some sort of dark omen: “Knifed a cop and she pissed on her face, was it some sort of sick fantasy?”—and suddenly, “Mirror Kissers,” a great classic from The New Fellas, a combination of effortless swagger and earnest outrage. “You’re not allowed to say that you’re better! You’re not allowed to say that ‘cause you’re the hipster type!” At its heart, the song is about the difference of what people are versus what image they put up: “You’ve got a lot to say but don’t mention / the mirror kissing ways of the hipster type.” Bluster and bombast and beauty. Well, that’s the Cribs, ain’t it?
They’re sure to hit the fan favorites: “Another Number” makes an appearance, almost a teenager now but still as fun and bouncy as ever. Oh! A rare note here. The crowd in Chicago is very docile. Truly, there’s embarrassingly little dancing or moshing. Ryan eggs on the crowd, saying that Chicago is one of the coolest cities in the world, so, by logic, it should have some of the coolest mosh pits in the world. Gary wonders what he’s on about, and Ryan replies, “I’m just trying to incite Schubas to riot,” abashedly. “Well, we’re gonna do our most un-mosh-worthy song next, but then we’ll get to some moshing!” boasts Gary. Someone in the crowd cheers, and he bursts out laughing. “I think it’s fitting someone cheered for our most un-mosh-worthy song,” and then they launch into “Another Number,” a bouncy pop tune for the ages from their debut eponymous album.
“Hey Scenesters!” gets the typical reaction: mad hysteria. It may be the band’s best-known song, and, frankly, it deserves to be. The NME (bastion of intelligence and opinion-shapers that they are) named it one of the top indie tracks of all time, and this time they were right bloody on, so to speak. It will probably be on anyone’s short list of “Greatest Cribs Tracks” even though the band now has over 100 of them and it’s hard to find a dud in the whole collection. (Hell, their b-sides kill almost any other group out there – “Kind Words From The Broken Hearted”? “Get Yr Hand Out Of My Grave”? Killer tracks that I’d put up against damn near anything. “There is no future, there is just one long past” they sing on the latter. It sums up so much with such brevity – the mark of a true lyricist.) “Be Safe” – one of my personal favorite tracks of the past decade – makes a welcome appearance, with video of Lee Ronaldo projected onto the bricks at the back of the stage, reciting his part.
Gary is a bit under the weather, so he’s taking it a little easy tonight, but Ryan’s in full swing, having downed a good bit of Jack Daniels (that classic American sour mash) before the show, and at one point, while he’s changing guitars – he’s between a Squire Venus and a Mustang with a humbucker in the bridge – he’s fumbling with the switch and Gary, lovingly, helps untwist his brother’s guitar strap. It’s a touching little moment, actually. I’m not sure they’ll be happy I’m publishing the moment, but it moved me. The affection these three brothers obviously have for one another and the care they take of each other is something special; and it’s one of the things that makes the Cribs so compelling and utterly unique.
There is no encore. The end of the set – shambles, feedback, atonality, guitars bouncing into amps, finally resting on top of them, the Cribs walk off stage and walk out the door onto Belmont.
I stick around. After the interview Gary had joked about going karaoke-ing again and making the always-poor decision to give Queen a go (so he says), but Ryan had wanted to continue a Chicago tradition of going to a certain dive in Wicker Park. A couple girls and a guy friend from the state northward are lollygagging about, and I get invited to hang with them. Eventually, plans are made. I suggest we take a trip to Longman & Eagle in Logan Square while the boys are hanging out downstairs and checking into the hotel. So after a quick nip there, we head south to Wicker Park. After 2am, we slip across the way to a 4am bar. Ryan and Ross are drinking Jack & Cokes; Gary’s stayed at the hotel – he is feeling under the weather, after all. But the two of them are so warm and welcoming, chatting with all in attendance, discussing music and life and happiness and the future – Ross has finally asked his high school sweetheart to marry him. “After 10 years, it felt like the right thing to do,” he tells me. It’s a wonderful, joyous, free-wheeling time. Eventually the boys want to head back to the hotel; Sam, their tour manager, and the girls I met (their friend had since disappeared) come back to my house for a beer and Boulevardier, and we chat for a while. Then we fold out the sofa-bed, Sam asks for directions for a taxi, and I go upstairs to pass out.
So, like I said: a marathon. Start drinking at 1pm, finish around 5am. A great day for a Cribs concert, and all the accoutrements that go with it.