Monday, November 27, 2017

Risking to Exist, Maxïmo Park Robustly Rewards My Passion -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Maxïmo Park
w/ opening act Active Bird Community
Lincoln Hall, Chicago
November 24, 2017

A common gripe of mine is that there are rather few relatively new rock bands that excite me.

With the caveat that I'm probably not looking in the right places or coming across the right acts, I know of no bands arising this decade (or whose members are in their 20s) that I would care to see live or even just on YouTube.

But just a day before I saw and loved personal favorites Maxïmo Park at Lincoln Hall--albeit with less than 150 other fans--I heard of the passing of a power-pop singer/songwriter named Tommy Keene at the age of 59.

Though notable enough to be nicely saluted on Twitter by the Cubs' music-loving announcer Len Kasper, two members of Bob Mould's touring band (Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster) and Matthew Sweet--for whom he opened on a tour this year--as well as mourned on the Bruce Springsteen fan site,, I had never known Keene's name, let alone his music.

But per these laudatory remembrances, I gave a listen to some of Tommy Keene's top songs on Spotify and really enjoyed several, particularly "Places That Are Gone"--the title tune from his 1984 debut EP--and "Out of Mind," which opens his last album, 2015's Laugh in the Dark.

This juxtaposition reiterated two seeming truths:

- There are undoubtedly hundreds or thousands of stellar rock artists--old and new--that I can still enjoy discovering

- At Chicago's plethora of smaller rock venues--i.e. "clubs"--there may well be bands as good as Maxïmo Park putting on superlative shows for just $20 almost every night of the year; I just need to be turned onto them

Which suggests--as others have noted--that rock isn't dead, it's just turning into jazz, with more than enough fantastic practitioners still existing, just well beyond the mainstream.

Certainly, though I'm unabashedly a fan of many rock superstars--Springsteen, The Beatles, Stones, Who, U2 and hundreds more--like most serious music lovers, I also have my "under the radar"  favorites.

"Lesser known" to varying degrees, these include Dinosaur Jr., Social Distortion, Willie Nile, Alejandro Escovedo, Ike Reilly and Jason & the Scorchers, and my penchant for appreciating opening acts was best fulfilled by The Wildhearts, who--as this article explains--became true favorites.

I've also long been drawn to bands much bigger in their native U.K. than they ever became in the U.S.--The Jam, The Move, Blur and Stereophonics being prime examples--and in 2006 put together an 8-disc, 4-decade compilation of such acts, which I dubbed Hidden in the Isles.

That deep dive introduced me to Maxïmo Park, a Newcastle-bred quintet whose 2005 debut album, A Certain Trigger, was my favorite of the '00s.

Five subsequent studio albums plus a collection of A Certain Trigger B-sides have been solid-to-stellar, if not quite as awesome, but though most seem to have sold pretty well in Britain, Maxïmo Park remains largely unknown here.

I very much enjoyed the band live in Chicago in 2007 and 2012, albeit among sparse crowds, and another five years on was pleased to catch them Friday night at Lincoln Hall.

Being the day after Thanksgiving, I very much gave thanks to my pal Dave for joining me and to the venue personnel for getting us a couple of stools to use on the edge of the otherwise SRO main floor, as LH's second level wasn't open.

This made for a perfectly comfortable and enjoyable night, first as a New York band called Active Bird Community played a nice set of alternative rockish songs for, as they said, "gas money."

Nothing I heard from the openers was life-changing on a first listen, but it heartened me to know that bands like them still exist in a rock vein, are able to create a nice assortment of quality songs and happily pile in a van from NYC to play an opening gig in Chicago for about 50 people.

The only song title I confidently caught was "Unwind With Me," but Active Bird Community have a couple albums on Spotify and as their song, "Pick Me Apart," has over 3.6 million listens, I imagine it would have been part of the satisfying 40 minutes.

Maxïmo Park's new album is called Risk to Exist and in opening with the title track and soon playing the record's first song, "What Did We Do to Deserve This?," the band's excellent and engaging frontman, Paul Smith, revealed that the album had been recorded in Chicago (at, per Wikipedia, Wilco's The Loft studio).

Though hard to clearly describe, I still find dubbing Maxïmo Park's style as "angular pop" to be rather apt, and though they are a rock band, many of their songs are infused with dance beats.

This is certainly the case on "What Equals Love," likely the best of seven new songs that meshed well with tunes from throughout their career.

I was especially glad to hear "Graffiti" among others from A Certain Trigger, including the fantastic show closer, "Apply Some Pressure."

Other highlights among 80 minutes full of them included "The National Health"--from the fine 2012 album of the same name, which for whatever reason isn't on Spotify--"The Undercurrents," "Our Velocity" and "By the Monument."

Smith's comment about Risk to Exist being largely about "solidarity in hard times" and his noting the "I won't be put in my place" refrain on "Work and Then Wait" prompted me to give Maxïmo Park more credit for social stridency than I likely have before, as I've mainly just loved their sound.

I was also delighted that the quality of the songs came through to Dave, who was hearing most for the first time (though I've been championing Maxïmo Park for years).

He termed it a terrific show, and though Lincoln Hall was well short of packed, it seems agreement was universal. (See the setlist here; though exemplary, I wouldn't have minded another 4-5 songs as the band's catalog could well support a bit more stage time.)

Multiplying the $20 ticket cost with a rough guess at the crowd size makes me wonder if the band made back their transatlantic airfare, let alone other costs, so I'm all the more appreciative Maxïmo Park still deems it worth their while to play Chicago, or America for that matter (they're on a 10-show tour).

While I'll gladly continue to see & support them as long as I can, I but recognize the financial challenges faced by contemporary rock bands, even one of the very best IMO.

And like many relatively obscure acts I know--and undoubtedly dozens more I don't--with this excellent show, Maxïmo Park made me again quite grateful that they still Risk to Exist, while even daring to, lyrically, "Apply Some Pressure."

Without in any way suggesting that your personal favorites aren't--I'm always happy to hear of artists others think I should know--I'm again thoroughly convinced Maxïmo Park is a modern rock band that well merits your attention.

Here are a couple YouTube clips from recent Maxïmo Park performances, of songs new and old: 

1 comment:

Hemingway1955 said...

What about Garbage? No mention?