The Living Blue with Red Queen Hypothesis
Sunday, Dec. 11, 9 p.m.
The Melody Inn $5 The Living Blue Give a quick listen to the Living Blue’s fast, raucous, melodic songs, and you might dismiss the Champaign, Ill., quartet as a late entry in the neo-garage sweepstakes.
But given a fair hearing, the band’s new album, Fire, Blood, Water, proves a worthy contribution to the long tradition of do-it-yourself rock with catchy hooks and edgy attitudes.
The album is the Living Blue’s first national release and the first under the band’s current name (long story), but the sound represents the evolution — over seven years and two previous albums — of a fiery collaboration between high school chums Stephen Ucherek and Joe Prokop.
“I’m glad we started early,” says Ucherek, 25, in a phone interview. “I still feel like we’ve just begun.”
Expect some loudness Sunday night when the band plays the Melody Inn, along with guest Red Queen Hypothesis. The show starts at 9 p.m., and admission is $5.
The Living Blue’s guitar onslaught draws inspiration from all over the place: punk, psychedelia, ’60s pop, new wave and even early metal. Guitarist-vocalist Ucherek spits, yelps and croons through the high-energy tunes with that vaguely British air that seems to come naturally to Midwestern power-poppers. Prokop, a guitarslinger whose blond haystack recalls the Stones’ Brian Jones, brings an arsenal of power chords, jangly arpeggios, blues riffs and careening, overdriven solos.
Growing up in small-town Illinois, the partners cut their teeth on the ’80s hardcore and straightedge of Black Flag and Minor Threat. Through the skateboarding subculture of nearby Bloomington, Ill., they were exposed to ’90s garage revivalists like the Oblivians and the Gories, which in turn led them back to the source.
“That eventually got us into the stuff from the ’60s, the stuff that influenced those bands,” says Ucherek (which is pronounced, he says, “like euchre, the card game, with an ‘ek.’”). “We got pretty heavy into the Nuggets boxed set and the psychedelic stuff, which is pretty much the blues played loud as hell. I love British Invasion stuff, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Animals.”
With Ucherek’s older brother on drums, they formed a bassless trio called the Bloody Knuckles and moved to the college town of Champaign, where their music and personal demeanor didn’t quite fit the prevailing spirit.
“The party scene there was a lot of emo and really ultrasensitive, whiny shit, and we just weren’t those kind of people,” Ucherek says. “And by that time we’d abandoned our straightedgedness and had delved into experimentation with liquor and drugs, so that didn’t help much. We were wild, and people would either react to it like ‘Who are these assholes?’ or they’d be cool. But we didn’t let it affect us. We just stuck around. We used to play loud as hell, and we’d play for hours. No one would tell you to stop.”
The band grew into a quartet called the Blackouts, issuing an EP in 2000 and a full-length album, Everyday is a Sunday Evening, in 2002. The second album, 2004’s Living in Blue, landed a few songs on TV soundtracks, and the Blackouts shared the top prize in a nationwide battle of the bands run by the syndicated radio show Little Steven’s Underground Garage. Meanwhile, Ucherek and Prokop, who originally took turns writing and singing, had been gravitating toward their current respective roles as lead vocalist and lead guitarist.
Next came a new bass player, Andrew Davidson, joining drummer Mark Schroeder in the rhythm section. To avoid confusion with other similarly named bands, the Blackouts became the Living Blue, and they signed in fall 2004 with the Chicago indie label Minty Fresh.
Recorded in the spring, Fire, Blood, Water finds the band stretching creatively but still driven by the punk energy that originally inspired them. The album starts in high gear and doesn’t slow down. “It was actually kind of an issue during the recording,” Ucherek says. “The third day we were like, ‘Are we playing these too fast?’ But I was like, ‘No, let’s keep the quick ones.’ It seemed to fit the tone.”
And in an age of irony, the lyrics reveal an earnestness held over from the straightedge and emo days.
“Doing our thing in Champaign and not, like, New York City or L.A., you don’t have to be ultrahip and ultracool, which everybody knows is B.S. anyway,” he says. “Music is always ‘emo.’ There has to be some emotion, and I think that has universal appeal.”