It's a glum little venue, the Fireside Bowl. League nights were traded for rock and roll years ago, and the old shadow-stretched bowling alley, its glory days long past, fell not-so-quietly into disrepair. Ceiling tiles now show precipitous signs of water damage, strokes of fresh white paint barely cover touring bands' magic marker graffiti, and spiky-collared, underage suburbanites scratch up the benches. It's just not a fun-looking place.
Fitting, then, that the Jealous Sound, a cloudy rock act out of sunny L.A., have blown into Chicago on August 23 to play the depression-inducing room. The Jealous Sound, probably best known for Lurch-like frontman Blair Shehan's previous work in indie outfit Knapsack, play rock tunes that could be pigeonholed as Clarity-era emo. On records and during shows, however, the band exhibits a distinct flavor that neatly sidesteps the genre. Albums sweep around familiar rock topics (drugs, girls, trouble mixing the two), and Sheehan exhibits a rising snarl of a voice, capable of conveying his barest angers and frustrations.
And, at first, the night's concert seemed like a shelter from the storm. Opening with the surprised regret of "Hope for Us" (incidentally, also the first track of their new LP, the recently released Kill Them With Kindness), the band felt quickly in step with one another; not surprising considering the group's other members hail from capable acts like Shudder to Think and Jawbox. Bassist John McGinnis, for instance, expertly contrasted his smooth harmonies with Shehan's occasionally rough voice; Pedro Benito let his guitar rain down on the crowd and the steady patter of Adam Wade on drums helped anchor the act.
Unfortunately, the Jealous Sound centered most of the set on songs off their new disc, and slowly a separation started growing between the audience and the band. The songs, by no means poor, did not leave any room for familiarity. The audience seemed ready to rock, bobbing excitedly during the group's recognizable, earlier work, but as those few tunes were pushed to the rear of the set, the Jealous Sound's show began to take on a tone of dull redundancy, with songs piling up like so many dry leaves.
None of this would have been a problem, of course, if Shehan had more energy, just a little more swagger in his step. Decked out entirely in black, though, his performance seemed as colorless as his shirt. He addressed the audience about five times over the course of the hour. One of the first found him blaming Chicago for what he thought were traces of a coming cold. One of the last involved him refusing to play the one request a crowd member called up to the stage. Perhaps most aggravating of all was his introduction of "For Once in Your Life", another track of their latest record. "This song's about drugs and dancing. Mostly dancing, though," he explained.
Umm, well, not really. The song utilized the group's usual formula: reserved vocals occasionally jumping to a rough growl, supported by well-used but sparse harmonies and a guitar crunchy chorus. But it didn't make you want to dance. A song "mostly" about dancing should, ideally, do that, at least a little, regardless of the subject matter.
By the following song, featuring the painfully clear line "you have no currency to pay," the band began to sound more and more plainly pretentious. The sound system, which made it hard to make out most of the lyrics, left the audience with solitary lines like that one, and by that point in the set, such statements came off as silly and sniping. Care, or lack thereof, for these misbegotten women had evaporated. So she didn't have any "currency to pay." Give the girl a break, Blair. Spot her a buck already.
As the L.A. rockers continued to churn through the rest of their hour-long set, interest kept waning. Loud rockers that popped up near the end of the set were incapable of coming across with the thundering purpose they intended. In the audience, hands were placed in pockets, heads didn't sway, and minds, one would assume, wandered freely. By the end of the show, the Jealous Sound's initial bolts of strength had been dissipated by the group's surprising lack of immediacy. Ultimately, the band had all the power of a castrated bull: Hints of strength in form, but incapable of delivery.
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