The Sick Puppies & Chevelle Invade Chicago

The Sick Puppies/Chevelle show at the Riviera (Riv) in uptown Chicago was definitely worth the adventure I had to go through to get there. My friend, a staunchly devoted Chevelle fan, came with me to take pictures. I hadn’t been to the Riv before and for some stupid reason, I relied on Google Maps [side note: where have all the tech cowboys gone? Google is starting to suck and it makes me sad]. We left for the concert with an hour and a half to spare. I thought if we got there early, we’d walk around the block, maybe get some Thai food, you know…prepare for the moment.

However, the craziness that ensued was akin to Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (I love White Castle). After an hour, my friend and I found ourselves in Bolingbrook. Yes, he’s quite a navigator and I’m quite the schmuck for believing the navigator. After we realized the mistake, I turned around like Starsky and Hutch and shot back to the Loop for an “easy” fix. We drove down Lake Shore Drive with a ton of crackheads on wheels and finally got to Lawrence. However, my directions told me to take a left onto Lawrence when the only small sign for a turn was hidden on the right. Once again, I made a U-ey and proceeded to spend a half hour trying to find a parking spot with my friend. After umpteen full lots, we finally came upon one near the Aragon Ballroom but as I tried to park, the attendant made sure that we were staying until two a.m. for the Mariachi Extravaganza. All I could see for miles were Hispanic people lining the streets, ready to unleash the ‘sabor’. My friend stopped every pedestrian; every unsuspecting street-loiterer and thank heavens, we got lucky and parked literally a block up from the venue. Sigh…

We could hear the Australian, L.A. transplant band, Sick Puppies cranking out the tunes when we frantically walked in and we raced to get a place in the balcony for optimum viewing and picture-taking pleasure. Quickly thereafter, we were swarmed with old, greasy security guards. Those rent-a-cops were by far the sorriest bunch I’ve seen in a long time. I kind of felt sad for ‘me, like raggedy, aged pit bulls. Anyway, we finally made our way into the VIP section, which I soon realized was only nominal. I sat next to two beautiful, blonde bimbos who proudly confessed that they shouldn’t be sitting there but that the guard took pity on them because they lost half their clothes.

With all of that, it was hard to pay attention to the whaling on a stage lit by the pit of Hell. The lights were white and retina-burning red. There was a smoky mist covering the stage, spilling into the atmosphere, making me think that chains were going to fly out of the walls ala Hellraiser III. The Sick Puppies were billed as Alternative/Rock/Other. In this case, it was definitely “Other”. I would love to talk about the poignant songs they played but I couldn’t tell over his incessant use of the F*** word and relentless thrashing and screaming. They must have a ton of devoted fans because everyone else loved their special Aussie brand of hybrid of faux punk and metal. I especially liked their Slash-inspired female guitarist and I appreciated their energy. Because they’re newer artists, they are still careful about how they treat their fans and paparazzi. They have a very “upright” feeling which is just a tad off-putting at a metal/hard rock show. They were talkative and interactive, with the lead singer flinging himself into the crowd after the performance. I went to their MySpace page and they prompted fans to call a certain number, so I took a chance and dialed. They wisely hooked up with a special service called “Say Now” after they got to #1 for their single You’re Going Down on the “Active Rock” charts along with big name artists like Alice in Chains. Now, they’re still strongly represented as the only band with two releases on the top 50.

This is in direct contrast with the native Chicago favorite, Chevelle, who are seasoned and professional musicians. They’re also on the charts which implies a fair amount of success; but as far as this particular concert, they were extremely disconnected and aloof. To me, it didn’t seem like they had any joy or excitement; there was absolutely no enthusiasm. They were just rehashing the same song that they played the night before. It felt like drudgery and duty. Maybe they were worn out; maybe they were still upset about their family feud and Joe Loeffler leaving the ranks, but when they came out on stage, the atmosphere quickly changed from that of scary frat party to an alien experience, much like their cd cover art and scrim. My friend was disappointed that Chevelle didn’t play a lot of their ‘classic’ tunes and most recognizable tunes until the end and encore. However, I am a little less generous with my criticism because I know that it must be hard having to spoon-feed babies the same blended pea mash over and over again. But at the end of the day, everyone was there to get a certain kind of experience, a certain metal high, a certain adrenaline rush that comes from freeing your inner demons, letting loose and releasing all the tension and stress inside. That’s a good metal show. You scream and scream and scream, everyone feeling the same pain, the same angst, the same anger and by the end, the concert transformed into a cathartic and therapeutic remedy for what ails us. However, when the lights came on this time I was just plain tired.