ARTS

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May 15, 2004

Go south for glam, you man: all of Chicago turning to P1xel, Hyde Park

Look, buckos. We need to have a talk about something very important: namely, good music, or the lack thereof.

In all my years of listening to music and drinking in cheap, run-down flophouses, I've seen a hell of a lot of terrible bands. Played in a few of 'em too, ranging from the world's first (and thankfully only) Celtic-rockabilly combo to your garden-variety tuneless garage bands.

On the spectator side of things, I've been "serenaded" by Winger cover bands at least 12 times. There have been at least four occasions when I've watched mulleted rednecks butcher Springsteen. I've even endured 45 endless minutes of unwashed Oregonians, on enough LSD to urinate rainbows, sitting around and pounding garbage cans. If it's awful, tasteless, bizarre, and potentially hazardous to one's sanity and/or health, I've probably got it on tape somewhere.

So, why spend so much time listening to the sheer drek, the unmitigated toxic- green sludge that seeps out from under the rust-chewed bottom of the proverbial barrel, you might ask? It's simple: bad music is the enemy, and I always like to be firmly acquainted with hostile forces.

Now, I don't want you to start thinking that I have some weird masochistic streak going here, or that I honestly enjoy seeing terrible bands week after week. Honestly, I spend a good chunk of the three or four shows I see a week sitting in the corner, downing shots of Old Crow and gnashing my teeth. Sometimes I consider the various merits of illegal firearm ownership, but most of the times, I just curse God for being a cruel and malevolent deity (as proven by the current existence of hair metal).

Of course, this whole concert-going mess begs the question: why do it at all? Why go out and spend half of my evenings each week drinking vile rotgut, watching vapid, bored secretaries shake what their mothers left them plus compound interest and listening to some god-awful racket? Because sometimes you simply find a diamond in the rough, which is more than enough to pay you back for all the misery you've endured.

Chicago's been good to me in that regard; almost every show I've seen over the last few months has regularly featured at least one new band that I've come to like. The Detholtz. New Black. The Ponys. These have all been worthwhile finds, but recently I'm a bit more keen on one particular local diamond than the others—namely, P1xel and the Chronic Network.

If you've been under a rock for the last few months, P1xel and the Chronic Network is the University's very own glam-rock powerhouse, specializing in distorted guitars, tunes catchy enough to qualify as STDs, and more glitter than a horde of magical pixies. They've played the top of the parking structure, they're playing for a circus next weekend, and they've got enough sheer chutzpah to have a movie made about them.

Now, in my five years of living in Hyde Park, I've seen a lot of U of C bands that, while talented, just never manage to endear themselves to audiences north of the Loop. Some are too cerebral; others just seem to wilt in the face of hostile crowds. Some never even get enough of a crowd to be hostile.

But P1xel…well, watching P1xel play the Double Door Tuesday night was something of an eye-opener. Relegated to the dreaded opening slot, they began the set playing to a handful of us Hyde Park die-hards sitting around the empty insides of that accursed venue. And instead of wilting like the gentle flowers they profess to be, P1xel came on fiercely, shimmying, swaying. And say what you will about the gimmickry of glam-rock—these boys (and girl) rock more effortlessly and authentically than almost any other young band I've seen these days. It's in their blood.

And the amazing thing was, P1xel made a crowd for themselves. By the end of the second song, a handful of people had trickled in, nervously watching their friends for a sign of acceptance, a signal stating that it was indeed okay to publicly voice support for these strange South Side creatures. By the end of the set, that handful was literally three-fourths of the club.

After P1xel finished, the rest of the show was incredibly anti-climatic. The Fancy Lads, while well-named and competent, showed only the problems of rock 'n' roll—clichéd riffs and cookie-cutter songs about "saving rock 'n' roll" written by balding men in their late 30s does not a fresh band make. The ill-suited headliners, Heartbreak Speed, fell victim to a similar blunder, playing deadly serious "emotional" rock 'n' roll that was so divorced from any sort of reality (musical or emotional) that the end result seemed more surreal than comical.

This is the problem with all these old men desperately trying to be rock 'n' roll martyrs before it's too late. Saving rock should never be a gravely serious matter. It should be a matter of anthems and flash, of sing-a-longs and clever hooks.

It's a matter best left in the hands of P1xel and the Chronic Network.