You can tell a lot about a band by where it hangs out. On most weeknights, the Cove seems like a dodgy sports-bar. But that is its sole appeal. It’s a neighborhood bar that appeals to neighborhood people, and not the usual U of C clientele. From the first greeting of the bouncer to your first drink, there is something palpably unpretentious about this whole place.
Sixty-eights prefer The Cove. A self-professed “goofy band,” it is heavily influenced by seminal punk-rock groups like The Clash and Sex Pistols. Even its name, Sixty-eights, refers to the year when the managers of the two great bands met at the May 1968 Revolt in France. But a name is only a name. Forming the band between 2000-2001, the four members met in Henderson House in Pierce Tower. Henderson House could almost be enshrined as an historic music site at the U of C. Numerous bands and endless musical energy have developed in this dormitory. The lead singer, Patel, attributes this to several things. First, there is the Henderson Coffee House that is held every year, at which bands from all corners of campus come to grind their axes. Second, there is a 10 x 10, poorly ventilated practice space in the basement. “Our first demo was made in that space in 20 hours,” Patel says.
The music of Sixty-eights is the kind of punk that you have to crank up to feel its full impact. It’s very easy to hear the influences of the Clash in the Sixty-eights early songs, and in a way it’s almost a cheap mockery. The Sixty-eights have always had a tight line-up. The rhythm section is straight out of college rock heaven, capable and on-cue, and Sean Mahan (bass) and Paul Brennan (drums) are among the elite musicians in Hyde Park with years of experience beyond their youthful exterior. Then there is Will Long, the guitar slinger that spits out rock solos like a hardened fugitive spits out tobacco chew. But there has always been one problem.
“There are good bands and then there are great bands. Good bands can just play together. Great bands are defined by being able to keep up with the time changes and the synchronicity in pauses,” Long said. By that definition, the Sixty-eights is a good band, comfortable in a 4-4 realm. The band can play. But something is missing. A spark. Most of the Sixty-eights’ songs sound so rehearsed that it is like every other punk-rock song that came before, during, and after.
I think the problem is that Patel can’t sing. But recently, he found a new voice. On a surprising new track called “Sureshot,” a low-fi recording using only one microphone, there is that certain kind of dirty basement sound that creates the hype of most indie bands. With a steady surf-riff, Patel enters with a primal scream. Unlike his previous efforts, his tenor reaches an ecstatic upper range. It’s the kind of discovery that creates a front man. With that, the band came together more than it’s ever been. The song had structure and plowing energy that announced the dawning of the new Sixty-eights. It reaches for that kind of heaven that evades description.
Even though the Sixty-eights have songs that defy description, throughout the interview, I learned that there were a couple that tell great stories. One song in particular links to how Sixty-eights have contributed to the proliferation of the Hyde Park music scene. “Smoke (on the weekends)” is a song about “breaking up with a girl who was so boring, I had to smoke cigarettes every time I saw her,” Patel said. “When I broke up with her, she asked me if I wanted to have sex one last time. I said no; I was trying to do a good deed for the guys. And afterwards, I needed a drink. So, I went to the Cove. It was that time of day where it was just the bartender, the jukebox, and me there. The Cove has a kick-ass jukebox, not much people know that. And I said to the bartender, ‘This juke is kick-ass.’ ‘Yeah, I know.’ We got to talking and he told me to come back on Thursdays cause there’s the $4-pitcher special. Will and I came back for the whole fall quarter of sophomore year and one day ‘Dude, I’ve got a band. Can we play here?’ So, we put a couple bands together, played, and got three free pitchers of beer out of that.”
That fateful and successful Thursday at the Cove last November drew together three bands (Sixty-Eights, Abandoned Silos, and Drexel) with 100-plus patrons to a somewhat desolate area of Hyde Park. Though there are concerts and performance venues on campus, they are certainly not as successful as that of Thursday at the Cove in terms of crowd size and audience response. The reason? I’ll let you figure that out. Perhaps Patel will have a new song coming titled “Drink (on Thursdays)”?