Push-Pull, Sass Dragons, The Brothers Gross at Halloween House, Jan. 2009

 

The Halloween House proudly opened its doors for another night of punk rock last Saturday. A surprisingly large crowd, made up of both under- and overage folks, shows up for these basement events, where the night can get a little crazy and anything can happen. Some showgoers came prepared for a good time with a bag of goodies collected from the party supply store. They passed out sunglasses, visors and noisemakers to the crowd and reserved some smoke bombs to add unexpected special effects to the musical acts.

First up was new novelty act the Get Wild FIVE, which is ironically a three-piece. They weren't originally on the bill, but since all the members happened to come to the show, they decided to borrow some equipment and play a set. Including members of Phoenix Bodies, the Get Wild FIVE try to maintain a ratio of one practice per every 15 shows and do not have any concretely written songs. The set began with drummer Brian Dove suggesting a four beat fill followed by ... whatever. "Whatever" turned out to be a fast 4/4 pace with smart, funk-inspired bass and speedy tom fills. Vocalist Ryan Reedy played his distorted guitar with sliding strums and lots of solos, stopping occasionally to wail chaotically into the mic. After their first song, one audience member stated, "I don't know if I should clap or spit on you!" While their method may be confusing, this group clearly has more talent and musical know-how than a band who doesn't practice should. They enhanced their final songs by decorating the drums with confetti garnered from a paper shredder. The strips of various documents flew off of cymbals to get caught in the crowd's hair and clothes. When asked about their style, the trio decided that "The Get Wild FIVE is like eating a burrito from Qdoba while candyflipping. I mean, who really wants all that rice?"

The Brothers Gross followed the unexpected openers. They seemed to be the main draw for the show, as the basement quickly became packed with fans that danced and sang along. Their power-pop is irresistibly catchy, even in the low-tech acoustics of a basement. Following in the footsteps of Phil Collins, drummer Kyle Gross also handles the lead vocals and doesn't miss a beat. Bassist Steve Tathren and guitarist Tim Gross join in to harmonize and enhance the singing. The guitar stays fairly clean, using little distortion to complement the single-string solos, while the bassist performs runs that are relatively complex for this style, in a throwback to power-pop greats The Exploding Hearts.

People mingled throughout the house, conversing on couches and making elaborate set-ups for photo opportunities. Both the basement and the upper rooms of the house were full for the next two acts, Bust! and Push-Pull, whose individual styles provided contrast. Bust!, an original three-chord band that sounds like a distorted Queers, played third. Although their set was comprised of basic, predictable punk rock, their speedily downstroked powerchords gave the kids an opportunity to form a rowdy circle pit. Push-Pull pulled the tempo back a bit with their simplistic rock. They played mostly mid-tempo songs with stoner rock drums and wailing guitar solos that made for an interesting set, albeit with only moderate crowd interaction.

The hour grew late as Chicago group Sass Dragons prepared to play the final set of the evening. The trio showed up haltingly at the back gate of the Halloween House in between sets, wondering if they were in the right place. A group of young punk rockers assured them that they most certainly were, gesturing to plaid pants and dyed hair as proof. Sass Dragons have a reputation for energetic, sometimes semi-nude shows that are quirky and entertaining, and they did not disappoint at the Halloween House. The palm mutes, heavy high-hat and catchy solos mark their style as early '90s pop punk, but the vocals carry an edge while remaining perfectly intelligible. They produced a fun mix of roiling, poppy riffs and sing-along anthems. As the final act, they put on a great show, but their performance - like all the bands scheduled to play - was overshadowed by upstart openers the Get Wild FIVE.

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