Pick Up Your Head. Middle Class Rut and American Fangs at Subterranean in Chicago

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Middle Class Rut-Chicago-2013-20Middle Class Rut, the Sacramento, CA based duo, are touring and have released a new album. If you happened to be at Subterranean in Chicago recently, you had the best of both words. Middle Class Rut played a CD release show for Pick Up Your Head and Chicago fans were treated to a healthy dose of their new material. Based on crowd reaction, I’d say the new songs went over pretty well.

The night started with local Chicago band Hidden Hospitals. Their 30-minute set really got the crowd pumped up. Lead singer, Dave Raymond, was very gracious to be ending their own tour, in their home town, by opening for Middle Class Rut.

Next up were American Fangs from Houston, TX. They played a pretty energetic 30-minute set that mostly consisted of songs from their new self-titled release. Considering the low ceiling, small stage and the fact there wasn’t much room to move around, they still managed to keep the excitement level pretty high. Lead singer Gabe Cavazos was charismatic, constantly smiled and engaged the crowd really well. The majority of their songs, including Le Kick and Gimme Gimme, were very upbeat and you couldn’t help but want to bob your head or jump up and down.

Guitarist Beau Gobert demonstrated this the most since he had more room to move around. As a result, his stage presence was very animated. At one point I lost count of how many times he jumped up and down. Not only did he play at the very edge of the stage, often times he’d thrust his guitar away from his body and towards the audience. When he wasn’t hanging back near his amps he was doing his fair share of backing vocals.

Pomona, with its fast-paced playing, “WOW!” screams from Gabe and the “woah, woah, woah” backing vocals, was another catchy song. This lead into River You Bought that had Gabe going into the crowd briefly. Again, you couldn’t help but want to jump around to the beat of the song. With lots of backing vocals from Beau, bassist Kyle Shimek and second guitarist Nik Slimp, this was another extremely catchy song that really incorporated every member of the band.

All night long, Micah Miller’s drumming style was aggressive and included a lot of crazy facial expressions. He was definitely feeling every beat and he’s clearly a key contributor to the American Fangs sound. Just as the night started off with a song from their 2009 EP, they ended their set with another. Get the Hell On was a song with an in your face style Rock ‘n Roll attitude. Bottom line, with great catchy songs and a love for their music and performing clearly apparent on stage, American Fangs are a damn good time!

During the 25-minute set change, I could feel the anticipation in the crowd. These fans were ready. Previously, Middle Class Rut had always toured as a 2-piece, but that was far from the case that night. Clearly there were more mics and instruments on stage than just those for two band members. I had recently read that due to the new material having a lot more layers and instruments per song, they couldn’t quite pull it off live with only the two of them. Well, not without having all the extras being played through a computer anyway. As a result, there were three extra guys on stage. A bass player, a guitar player who also sang backing vocals, and a percussionist that played a keg looking drum set-up that included trash can lid cymbals. He had a few other various percussive instruments and also helped with backing vocals.

The stage was very dimly lit once the band started playing and much to my surprise stayed that way for their entire set. However, this appeared to have little impact on the crowd. Once the band started with Busy Bein’ Born, you could immediately hear the crowd sing along. The soft vocal start allowed the crowd, for a brief moment, to be a part of the band, projecting as much as vocalist/guitarist Zack Lopez for the first part of the song. However, once the song really kicked in, it was on. The band full on launched into it, the music got much louder and Zack’s vocals went from a singing tone to a more stressed scream during the chorus.

Next up was Aunt Betty. Not only the first single from the new album, the first of many new songs, and the crowd seemed pretty familiar with this one. With its slow, somewhat sludgy start, it had a groove that was easy to fall into. This was also the first song to showcase dual drumming action, not only from drummer/vocalist Sean Stockham, but from the other percussionist as well. Sean’s kit was set up off to the side of the stage so it was pretty cool to see two sets of sticks, pretty much side by side, beating in unison. This lead into the first track, Born Too Late. This song had one of the coolest sounding drum parts. Just imagine the sound of metal horses galloping. I have to say, having an actual person playing these extra drum parts vs. hearing the extra percussion coming from a computer was definitely a smart move.

Before the next song started, a fan down front kept yelling out Lifelong Dayshift, a song from their previous album No Name No Color. He continued to yell out the song title while leaning over the front of the stage. Eventually Zack acknowledged him stating that was a tall order. The guy kept on then Zack mentioned he’d rather hear someone yell out Lifelong Dayshift than Freebird. Up next was probably my favorite new song of the night and a song I feel should be their next single. Leech features Sean singing most of the vocals while playing drums. For the majority of the night, Sean was engulfed in nothing but red light. This played well with the steady groove and vibe of this song. This is also about the time I noticed the large For Sale tattoo on his chest.

They continued with All Walks of Life, from a previous 2008 EP, that again, had Sean singing the majority of the vocals. As the night went on and more new songs were played, there were times when the audience stood almost perfectly still as they listened and absorbed these new sounds. MCR also played Weather Vein, which had some awesome guitar parts and effects, No More that included extra percussion and Dead Eye that, once again, had Sean singing the majority of the song. When Zack wasn’t singing, he often times appeared to have gone to another place. Standing back from his mic, he played those guitar notes with an expression that showed a connection an artist has to his own creation.

However, once they played songs the crowd was familiar with, the crowd went crazy by singing along, jumping and moving around. They ended the night with three songs from No Name No Color. Starting first with USA, then Zack tried to trick everyone by stating the next one was a new song. Once they launched into New Low I thought the crowd was going to lose it. Once again everyone was singing along.

While gearing up for the last song someone yelled out the song title Cornbread. Sean mentioned they didn’t have enough people to play the song. He said something about needing a Polyphonic Spree amount of people to be able to play that song. They ended the night with Alive or Dead which included some pretty aggressive guitar playing from Zack. It didn’t matter if he was bent over while playing his guitar or if he had it raised over his head, regardless he was strumming the hell out of it.

I think it’s safe to say that most in attendance that night would agree on a few things. All songs played from Pick Up Your Head had one thing in common. Creative music, intense and passionate vocals and beats that made you want to move. Zack and Sean clearly enjoy what they do, the music they create and performing live. If you get the chance, be sure and check them out.

Keep up with the bands below:
Middle Class Rut
American Fangs

Check out my American Fangs photo gallery here.

Check out my Middle Class Rut photo gallery below:

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