Eating tacos with Local H 

click to enlarge Harding and Lucas cheers-ing before their show at The Hi-Fi this weekend - RHONDA BAUGHMAN
  • Harding and Lucas cheers-ing before their show at The Hi-Fi this weekend
  • Rhonda Baughman

Chicago duo Local H and local rockers Maravich packed the house for a night of sweaty, feisty, fist-pumping entertainment. I couldn't officially write here that the show had sold out, but I can tell you there was zero room to move inside the Hi Fi – unless you crowdsurfed one-way – as did several amped fans in a tiny pit before Local H frontman Scott Lucas did it himself, all the way to his merch table at the end of their 90-minute set. Maravich opened with tunes that were both wistful and reminiscent of a less-shrill Jane's Addiction. Honestly, Maravich's work belongs at the end of a film: when the guy gets the girl, the bullies get nailed, and even the family dog gets a bone. Overall this entire show was ridiculously epic, and I don't use that word lightly.

I'm also biased. There. I said it.

During soundcheck, I heard both Lucas and drummer Ryan Harding tell the young man guarding the soundboard to, “Give it all he's got, since there's no feed back … yet.” And it was the quiet yet, followed by an exchange of glances and smiles between the two, that immediately confirmed why I continue to see Local H live whenever I can. It's an event, and often an adrenaline rush led by two mischievous yet talented musicians. And there's no holding back at a Local H show. Be it a small crowd or full house, their live show is never anything less than fiery and genuine. Lucas and Harding actually like each other, their fans, and what they do – it never feels forced or insincere. They often include the audience and know how to play to them, for them, and with them. It would also seem that all the kids are right, even now – Local H is drawing veteran fans still, but also a younger crowd, too, which is critical to continued survival on the tumultuous planet of rock and roll.

Before that show, I meet up with Local H to chat. We're in a taco and whiskey bar a few short blocks from the Hi-Fi, and the place is as packed as the venue will soon be. Our server tells us she'll be right back, but then tells us ten minutes later that we looked so intense during our conversation, she didn't want to intrude. I have to laugh. If I'm not smiling, I do tend to look a little intense, I've been told. And I know how intense Lucas and Harding appear, but really, and I've interviewed plenty of musicians and celebrities, you won't find two nicer, more down-to-earth musicians than these two.

Like a lot of kids, Lucas and Harding used brooms and vacuum cleaner attachments as early instruments — the former mimicking Elvis, the latter late '80s/early '90s bands. This was before their parents actually gave in and began to purchase first real instruments. It's kind of adorable to think of these two as tots, although they do both retain boyish charm on some levels (not that they want to hear about it). They are, after all, simply rock and roll professionals.

“My parents mentioned once that they actually missed my friends coming over to practice, all the activity and stuff. Here I thought they, and the neighbors, would just be annoyed by all the noise and be glad when I moved out. Turns out they all thought we were pretty good,” says Harding.

And they are good. Stellar, in fact. So, it's strange to me that journalists or critics continue to overuse, or even include at all, phrases like "one-hit wonder," and "near-hit" in the same sentence when describing Local H.

“I never really thought of us that way, until those terms kept being bandied about over and over again,” Lucas tells me over our pre-show tacos.

The fact remains that Local H has been around, and consistently touring, releasing albums and EPs, for 25 years, including their latest, brilliant offering Hey, Killer. I've tried hard to pick it apart, find something to skip or dislike, but there's just not a wrong note or low moment on the album. Lucas has always been a strong lyricist, but his work on Hey, Killer is among his best.

Harding admits, “I had some big shoes to fill” [from previous H drummers Joe Daniels and Brian St. Clair] and “it's important to me not just to not just fill those shoes and learn all the H material, but it's important that I add my own style and elements, too.”

I've seen two shows now with Harding behind the kit and this show, particularly, contained an epic amount of energy and Harding elements. He's gracious with Local H fans, who are notoriously close knit and fanatical about everything from set lists to Lucas' crowdsurf-to-the-merch-stand ritual, and Harding often indulges when we pester him for drumsticks, photos and setlists.

I ask Lucas if he takes pride in knowing that he has 10+ albums of material, with much of it done in-house and DIY, while many current musicians have armies of producers, writers, and hairstylists.

“Absolutely,” he says. “It's one of the things I am most proud of. And although I am a little less angry on stage these days, I have to admit that I'm really grateful.” I ask him, specifically, what's he's grateful for.

click to enlarge Scott Lucas crowdsurfing - RHONDA BAUGHMAN
  • Scott Lucas crowdsurfing
  • Rhonda Baughman
 “All of it. Grateful for where I live – I know how lucky I am to wake up in Chicago, have access to all of the opportunities the city has to offer. I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. I feel lucky to have worked with the people I have worked with over the years, and maintain a fan base as dedicated as ours. I know how fortunate I am. I'm really grateful for all the young fans we've seen and met recently – they're important. It's how you stay relevant as an artist. I'm more proud of those things than I am even of anything a major label could offer.”

I never expected that. So, I tell him his presence onstage is still raw and powerful, and he's right, it's just not as angry. I've noticed it. Other fans have noticed it. Some even occasionally catch photos of Lucas smiling on stage now – almost as if … he's having a good time. And he is, I think. Moreover, he doesn't hate anything about the road (except for traffic and time zone changes, and maybe all the interviews, he says jokingly, I think), he doesn't find anything to cringe about in his past work (except maybe one or two older interviews, maybe a few of the earliest demos available out there), and he's actually okay with playing the fan favorites 'High-Fiving MF' and 'Bound for the Floor' nightly. “You're not even inwardly over it a little?” I ask. “Not at all,” he says, “I know how to get in a zone.”

Harding adds, “It's all part of a process. Growing up. Expanding. Evolution. Revolution. I'm grateful, too. It's really all about keeping up with our goals, meeting new people, and opening doors.”

But wait – I know Lucas is a dedicated film connoisseur. Does it make him angry to see actors and actresses, who obviously have no prior training, who may have never, in fact, even picked up an instrument before, try to lip sync and pretend they know how to wield those instruments? “Well, okay, a little bit,” he admits. “But that would go for anyone, I bet, who can see his or her occupation inaccurately represented.”

click to enlarge Local H soundchecking at The Hi-Fi - RHONDA BAUGHMAN
  • Local H soundchecking at The Hi-Fi
  • Rhonda Baughman
 Before the tacos arrive, I ask the duo if they would consider doing another PledgeMusic campaign. They nod. The last one was successful, and I, for one, have no regrets and only fond memories for the perk I received for my contribution: On a cold, snowy evening in early March of this year, both Scott and Ryan drove to Indianapolis, from Chicago, and showed up at my apartment, with a case of beer and Hey, Killer on CD and vinyl. They set the pitch wheel on my turntable. I took photos. I had bought enough food for 12 people (mostly vegetarian taco fare, although I splurged for the exotic cheeses I adore and a bottle of Perrier-Jouet, and enough candy from Cincinnati's Jungle Jim's to re-create Candy Mountain in the middle of my living room). Only four friends could make it. So, four friends, myself, and the band had a CD/Vinyl Listening Party – and it was an epic party to end all affairs. What happens in this writer's apartment, stays in this writer's apartment, though. If they do offer this perk again for another campaign, I recommend splurging for it.

The taco order finally arrives and our conversation revolves around various films, Harding's occupational ideas before joining Local H, more films, my ridiculous nickname, Lucas' rather ingenious yet heavy keychain, and still more films. True to his word preached from the stage, Lucas only looks at his phone once and that's for business. He's in the moment. Thank goodness a man shuffles over to steal our hot sauce, breaking the conversation. I'd had another great time with these guys, but they did have to eat and they had a show to put on. The excitement at the table was palpable, from Harding's side of the table first, then followed by Lucas.

And although both Harding and Lucas indicate they felt the Hey, Killer tour was over after their July 9th Kankakee, Illi. BBQ Fest, they have a few remaining dates on the west coast. Furthermore, they would still play later that evening with such intensity that it almost felt like a whole new tour was beginning. So, I tell them no matter how much we love the new album, I have to ask – what's next?

“It's a surprise,” says Harding.

“We do have something in the works and big ideas. We just can't tell you yet,” says Lucas.

They continue to eat tacos, chips and guac, while offering those looks and smiles that again, only two people who know each other, their fans, and the industry extremely well can exchange, and I know I won't get anything from them. They cheers to the evening ahead with shots of Bone Snapper. I hold my water glass in the air, snap a photo. It's just about showtime for those ready to rock at the Hi Fi – so we knew then, it was time to leave.

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Dr. Rhonda Baughman

Dr. Rhonda Baughman

Dr. Rhonda Baughman loves to travel, eat, write, watch movies, go to concerts, and play with her vinyl record collection. Her latest novel is about an English teacher who's also an assassin. Follow her on Twitter, not in real life, because she's actually an English teacher, but probably not an assassin - although... more

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