There is a part of me that dreams of one day being able to cover Flogging Molly’s ridiculous spring time concert cruise they’ve grown so fond of. Given the absurd price tag that comes with the privilege of sleeping in a 121 square foot room with no window, it’s not something that I see coming up any time soon. So, when it came to my attention that my good friends Archie Powell & the Exports was playing a show on a boat, I knew that I needed to be in attendance. Fellow locals Family of Geniuses and Band from the Back Porch would be setting sail alongside for a Halloween adventure on the high seas/Chicago River/Lake Michigan. As far as “next best things” go, this suited me just fine. The howling winds and plummeting temperatures were enough to drive the local mice into my humble abode and would normally be more than enough to convince to do the same, but here I was in my freshly retrieved scarf and jacket heading to the pier downtown to board The Summer of George for an evening that promised to be second to none.
Anyone fortunate enough to have been present for the 2017 Miller Lite Chicago Bears Block Party knows they were treated to one of the greatest performances of all time from Saves the Day. It was really something you had to see to believe, but it really set the bar for sets in 2017. That being said, Band from the Back Porch put on one of the best Saves the Day shows the actual band can no longer hope to perform. The booze cruise departed while The Rugrats (dressed as everyone’s favorite rugrats) Chicago’s biggest Saves the Day fans put together a set filled with their hits and not a single 10+ minute jam session to be found anywhere. It’s nice to see a group who asks the important questions like “What would happen if someone gave more of a shit about playing Saves the Day songs than the band currently does?” and reinvigorating them with the right mix of top notch talent and nostalgia. Considering half the reason most people go to see Saves the Day anymore is because they were better 17 years ago, Band from the Back Porch is a fine and often superior substitute.
Thankfully, the boat’s interior was heated, but once Family of Geniuses took the stage, it was no longer necessary. The band’s pop sound is so warm and bright that it was impossible not to start moving. Think of the synth heavy riffs found in the likes of Of Montreal or Justice, with a touch of Michael Jackson. Like Steve Winwood, Family of Geniuses was perfect boat music. It was hard to tell if the bigger dance party was on the stage or out on the floor. Even if the winds weren’t kicking things up on the water, the buttery jams below deck definitely warranted one of those stickers that says, “If this boat’s a rockin’, don’t come a knockin’.” Between the disco lights, the mirrors on every surface, and the hot tunes, it was a scene straight from the 70’s and it was glorious. The only thing missing was the shag carpet, but I imagine the health department had the boat remove it shortly after it was commissioned. Family of Geniuses was a fun discovery and is definitely the secret ingredient to elevating a party to the proper levels of fun whether on or off a boat.
I’ve seen Archie and the boys in just about every context from Riot Fest to the musical act on a local Saturday variety show, but on The Summer of George was easily the most appropriate venue to watch the insanity unfold. For all the times these tough boys dress like they’re playing a show on a boat, you’d think this was the sort of thing that happened on the regular. However, tonight was their nautical debut.
The gang was in rare form as they took advantage of the very powerful atmosphere that had been building all night. The Exports have been teasing us with material from their pending fourth album for the better part of the last year and this was the best it’s sounded. Their power pop sound has gone through a lot of refinement over the years ranging from dance tracks to in your face, borderline hardcore. These new songs are some of the most focused and realized material yet. When the album finally drops, it’s going to be a glorious day.
It was Halloween and Archie Powell playing Tom Petty songs is nothing new, but after his unfortunate passing I couldn’t think of a more appropriate tribute. Uncle Tom would be proud of the boat full of people embracing the spirit of his gifts singing along as loudly, with all the joy one could muster. By the time the boat finally returned the dock, it was like coming out of beautiful waking dream. Sure, there was no longer refuge to be sought below deck, but the lingering memories of warm melodies coupled with plenty of gin would suffice to get me home. My appetite for shows on a boat has been whet and I am more motivated than ever to take it to the next level. I’m coming for you weird pseudo Irish booze cruise, but for now, I’m content with my local options, especially if Archie and the bunch are involved.