Subterranean // Chicago, IL // Nov. 19, 2009
Inn Cinema kicked off the head-poundingly loud evening of rock at Subterranean with a strong nostalgic streak. Vocalist Rasheed Thomas carved out well-rounded melodies over distorted power chords in a manner that could have fit perfectly between the acts of the late '90s post-grunge rock scene. The band evoked the feel of Collective Soul, but with intermittent metal breakdowns churned out between the two guitars and five-stringed bass.
Despite their edge, the foursome reverted to some of the sunny truisms of the '90s in songs such as the lyrically optimistic "Live Your Life." With a good few feet of hair between the four of them, the band maintained a solid stage presence, closing their act with a number of perfectly synchronized jumps into the air.
Multitaskers VulGarrity followed by proving just what sort of layering is possible with a well-used loop pedal or two. Multi-instrumentalist Shawn Garrity would play a solid lick on his guitar, loop it, then put down the instrument to play drums for the remainder of the song. Tracy Garrity for the most part stuck to her bass, but took her turns on the drumset as well while Shawn played guitar. Both Garrities layered vocals atop the fast-paced, melodically complex rock they created through several pedals at once. Shawn's riffs were unwaveringly catchy and intricate throughout as he jammed against himself. The duo climaxed with an epic instrumental track that layered guitar upon bass upon guitar, all over drums played so hard that Shawn had to stand up to get gravity on his side when he slammed his sticks against cymbals.
Arma followed with a turn towards the prog side of things. Reminiscent of the Mars Volta at their most compact and least pretentious, Arma retained an incredible stamina, never wavering in their energy. Lead singer Taylor Brennan's vocal endurance was perhaps most impressive; he belted at full volume the whole way through the set, never once growing hoarse. Guitarist Alejandro Guzman played atop an army of pedals, feeding increasingly complex riffs through a variety of effects. Brennan danced across the whole expanse of the stage without any hint of pretense, just caught up in the energy of the song. The band dedicated their final track to "those that rock" and then proceeded to perform a no-holds-barred cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" at full blast.
Riot Inside kicked up the volume and the performative force as they entered to flashing red backlights. "Welcome to the Riot!" announced lead vocalist Gary John, and the frontlights came up to reveal the band dressed up for the occasion. John, like a sexier Hunter S. Thompson, performed in fedora, aviators, red shirt, white tie and vest. He had unbeatable stage presence as he strutted around the stage, mic in hand. He adopted the mic stand as a makeshift cane to complete the ensemble, swinging it around over his shoulder as he leaned in over the edge of the stage. His rough-edged, full-blooded voice perfectly complemented the bad-boy swagger.
Riot as a whole did not hold back on charisma or sex appeal; their aesthetic commanded as much force as their music as they rocked out bare-armed in suspenders and sunglasses. Lew Jones on a Les Paul cranked out stunning lead guitar atop rhythm
guitarist Stefan's Morello-esque riffs. The music as a whole was reminiscent of a vocally melodic Rage Against the Machine, though amidst all the testosterone-charged rock they did have a few more subtle Floydian moments. But the fivesome made it
quite clear that they were there for nothing besides filling the venue with as much balls-out rock as possible. "Now, I know this is Wicker Park," John said between songs, "but we're a rock band. Now, what I want you to do is make so much noise that the nearest guy on a double-decker bike falls on his ass." The mesmerized crowd acquiesced.