The Soundtrack of Our Lives
My friend Bob tells a story about seeing Swedish band The Backyard Babies. He tells of some asshole waving Swedish flags like he’s guiding airplanes on a runway throughout an entire show, right in his line of vision.
And of course he tells the story as our friend Dennis is being grilled by Metro security, who won’t believe the pills in his pocket are to curb his urge to smoke.
“They’re for not smoking,” he says.
“For what smoking?” asks security.
And so it goes.
My guard is down. It’s the first spring-like day of the spring season and I’m seeing Sweden’s The Soundtrack of Our Lives, one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands on the face of the planet.
There have been worse days.
American Minor is on first. The band calls Champaign, Ill., its home, but the sound is rooted in the group’s West Virginia inception. It’s a dirty Southern onslaught from a quintet with the hair and painted-on jeans of a rock band circa 1967. They’ve got a no-nonsense sound recalling Humble Pie or The Faces by way of The Black Crowes, but without all the funk and filler.
The band plays songs from its forthcoming self-titled Jive Records debut, with vocalist Rob McCutcheon in fiery form and lead guitarist Bud Carroll championing a bite to match. Carroll seems possessed by the guitar, flailing, fingers sliding through guitar solos faster than the average mind can take them in.
If American Minor can get the right mix and continue to improve their songwriting, it’s clear that their music is meant for arenas, not bars and clubs. Or, at least at one point in musical history it was. For now, they’ll have to take what they can get.
I want The Dears to be good, really good. But they make no effort to grab me, instead leveling a painful, boring set. Dabbling in instrumental mayhem that soon fades into transparently simple songs, the Montreal sextet arms itself with a barrage of instruments to no avail. In the end the arrangements are loose and faulty. The band’s compositions are drawn-out live; for many bands this would allow a sort of fruition that recorded sound does not. But guitarist Patrick Krief sounds like he is playing into a tin can, the skill involved in his playing (that which we get from the visual) bears no relation to the sound we hear come out. Frontman Murray A. Lightburn shakes his ass while counting through a song. Drummer George Donoso III and bassist Martin Pelland are anomalies, their skill and sound powerful and towering over the disjointed stumbling of the band’s four other members.
Simply? This is a mess.
For The Dears, the conceptualization of live songs proves too wandering, stretched too thin. For a band in need of a good fat-trimming anyway, stretching these songs is clearly not the key. All hope is not lost for The Dears; bright things can faintly be seen shimmering on the horizon if they can train their progressive nature, not simply allow it to take over the stage. The Dears’ set is not a horrible experience. It’s just disappointing that these talented musicians have such lack of direction.
Between sets, out of nowhere, here comes our guy. As if being pushed out of the way by his leading lady is not entrance enough, the tall young man stops directly in front of us and proceeds to disentangle the Swedish flag laced in his belt loop.
It’s almost as if fate is involved. Bob is a self-proclaimed “asshole magnet.” During TSOOL’s January show, we were graced with a couple so hopped up as to be pulling each other’s hair throughout the entire performance. You might laugh, but it was frightening.
The rest of the crowd looks normal from here.
In some ways, though, nothing matters. When we’re seeing an enigmatic band like The Soundtrack of Our Lives the opening bands don’t matter, and the people in front of us don’t matter either.
TSOOL can be dissected in two ways: You can see them as a throwback rock act derivative of their forefathers such as The Who, The Stones, The Stooges, and Television. Emulation is the most profound form of flattery or whatever. But this seems a simplification of the band and unfortunately one that is affecting the way they are portrayed in the grand scheme.
The second way, the more intuitive way, is to see TSOOL as a progressive and psychedelic modern rock act that wears the influences of said forefathers firmly on sleeve. Most in attendance seem to prefer the latter, more positive reading.
This would be the fifth show TSOOL has played in Chicago, the third at the Metro, and they have never sounded better. With their newly domestically released Origin, Vol. 1, the band provides a record rougher around the edges than their previous efforts (not to discredit the earlier and largely better records).
TSOOL adopt this sound live, applying it to older material, creating a more raucous aura, one noisier and more apropos to the band’s obvious late-‘70s NYC punk influence. Songs like “Broken Imaginary Time” morph from eerie organ dirges to huge mechanical monsters, breathtaking in their content and delivery.
The band’s presence continues to be top-notch. The stage at the Metro gives them breathing room unlike that of the Double Door, where they played only two months prior. Here, frontman Ebbot Lundberg swaggers across the stage in tunic, jangling his tambourine against his ample belly. All around him, led by guitarist Mattias Bärjed decked in full red shirt-tie-pants and covered in a white Gram Parsons Thunderbird jacket, the rest of the band flails, kicks, jumps, swings, windmill guitar strums. On stage, TSOOL is a proverbial hurricane. Lundberg, the eye of the storm, is stationery while the rest of the band swirls around him with immense energy.
TSOOL’s set consists mostly of songs from Origin, Vol. 1, with the occasional call-up of the back catalog. The most notable instance is “Instant Repeater ‘99”, during which Lundberg performs his trademark leap offstage, meandering through the crowd whilst singing, finding Parasol Records’ Jim Kelly (largely responsible for bringing TSOOL’s music to the States in the first place) and giving him a huge hug. Many of the fans seemed relatively new to the band, as charted by the reaction to the band’s current single, “Bigtime”. Perhaps TSOOL is gaining steam after all, despite the critical tearing down of what should be a rock ‘n’ roll pinnacle; a landmark.
But it’s cool. I’m just as happy seeing them in clubs, anyway.
And here’s our guy all along, throwing up that Swedish flag, thinking the band can see him, or that they care. He’s putting it right in everybody’s face every 30 seconds as if he didn’t remember doing it the time before, and the time before that. Everybody seems to laugh it off except Bob, who had dreaded this from the beginning.
“It’s not funny,” he says. “It’s really not.”
“A dick is a universal symbol,” Dennis says.
And these are as wise as any words to leave you with.