I was at Quenchers, a local Chicago bar, a few weeks ago when one of the bartenders put on an album that immediately caught my ear. It was super riff heavy, melodic punk. At first I thought it might have been a Much the Same record I never heard. It turns out it was the new 88 Fingers Louie album, Thank You for Being a Friend (June 2017, Bird Attack Records). I listened to the band a bit in high school and really liked Back on the Streets. But they were still one of those bands that never resonated with me enough for me to keep up with them over the years. This album was different. Despite only partially listening to a few songs in a bar, I was intrigued enough to find more. Flash forward one week later and I was in the record store doing some retail therapy. You know that Peanuts cartoon where Schroeder is talking about feeling low and how buying records cheers him up? Well, that was me trying to forget my shitty, shitty week by spending money on colorful musical plastic, including the new 88 Fingers Louie. After a few spins, I was hooked. It picks right up where Back on the Streets left off nineteen years ago and is absolutely worth throwing a party over. Since I am apparently some sort of automaton powered by a mixture of alcohol and constant motion, I gleefully accepted the invitation to check things out. So, I postponed the stress eating of chips and falling asleep at my desk plans I usually reserve for a Saturday night and headed to the Metro.
Chicago’s Evil Engine does not fuck around. If you’re trying to get your show off to the kind of start where the audience is just left stunned by the pure embodiment of rock ‘n’ roll, Evil Engine is the band to do it. In keeping with the spirit of night of reaching back in time, this is a group clearly influenced by a blend the greats of the Epi-Fat era and heavy hitters like GBH & Cocksparrer. Their sound is dirty and unconventional and hits like an 18-wheeler full of some imitation Jack Daniels that ends up being better than the original. Their new EP is rad as fuck as well and absolutely worth keeping an ear out for in the future.
Up next was Able Baker Fox. The band is made up of members of the bands Small Brown Bike and Casket Lottery. If that alone doesn’t make you excited, well, you are dumb. You are a dumb person who needs to make better decisions. I say this because I didn’t know this connection at first. If I did, I could have understood the similarity in sound right away instead of spending their whole set trying to nail it down. My notes calling their sound a “Midwest blend of Crime in Stereo and Sparta” make a lot more sense now. I was hooked by their strong vocals, sludgy, driving bass lines, and all around commanding stage presence. Those that were smart enough to show up early were given a real treat in seeing Able Baker Fox. They’ll be around at FEST, so do yourself a favor and put them on your list to see.
Around the time The Lillingtons were set to take the stage was just around the time that people decided to finally show up. They were lucky too because the band started with an important announcement: the world was ending! As someone who never really got the style of pop-punk that bands like The Ergs! or Teenage Bottlerocket play, I am enjoying this Lillingtons resurrection. Given how much time I spend watching ridiculous specials about UFOs and conspiracy theories, it makes sense that songs about pyramids on the moon or the Apeman would appeal to me. The band clearly came to party because their set was non-stop fun. The pit finally opened up for “Invasion of the Saucer Men” which reminded me of the time everyone lost their shit seeing them at the Metro a few years earlier for Red Scare Fest. A new track, “Insect Nightmares”, from their upcoming October release was a real ripper and was the perfect lead into the great big group sing along that was “Lillington High.”
I don’t know if 88 Fingers Louie named their album Thank You for Being a Friend so they could walk on to the Golden Girls theme song, but I’m certainly glad they did. That bit of tongue-in-cheek humor was the perfect way to start their set. The band has played a number shows and festivals here and there over the years, but this hometown show was one of the best. Nineteen years since their last release is a long time and a lot to ask for people to stick around that long. However, there was no doubt that night about how people felt. The band was eager to share their new material and fans was ready to pick back up where they left off. Old and new blended interchangeably and as the show gathered steam; the crowd responded in kind. There were more kids in the pit than I would have expected for a show designed to cater to the kind of people who stand by the bar all night. It was refreshing to see that spirit of community that this kind of music embodies still going strong. Not to mention the fact that Dan Precision’s hair still is (and always will be) majestic and silken. It is the perfect flowing metaphor for his metal-influenced style of guitar playing.
It’s really easy to be cynical about bands who breaks up, gets back together, breaks up again, and take a shit long time to do anything. It’s so easy for that behavior to come off as a cash grab. But, 88 Fingers Louie are pros. Rather than just dumping something out on one of today’s retirement labels, they crafted a record that feels like a natural extension of the sound they built years ago which influences bands to this day. This show was a great celebration of the staying power of solid, well written music and the people who have a great time making it. And it was totally worth the absence of sleep, proper nutrition, and time spent out that comes from attending a show.