Subterranean is one of those tragically flawed venues. It’s long and lean, shaped like a jewel box, and it has a balconied second floor with an unusual and pretty spectacular view of the stage. With bars on both floors, it’s luxuriously designed for smaller crowds and creates the perfect atmosphere for up-and-coming bands who aren’t otherwise packing their shows. The flaw, however, is its acoustics. Bands with a clean sound are likely to come off a jumbled mess, and music from loud mixed-melody groups like The Velvet Teen gets helplessly lost bouncing from one wall to the next.
The Friday show featured a trio of three indie-rock bands who don’t have much in common except being on tour together and living in obscurity. The guy selling T-shirts at the beginning of the show was the same one on stage with a guitar an hour later. The A-Sides opened with a nice mix of fast and slow songs, their lead singer charismatic as usual, and their customary neon A to decorating the stage. The A-Sides didn’t elicit the kind of response one would expect, though it seemed they were doing everything right. Give it time.
Following the A-Sides was the undisputed crowd favorite, The Velvet Teen, who started strong and never looked back. Subterranean was particularly cruel to musical coherence, but then again, The Velvet Teen didn’t seem too hung up on articulating each and every note. A special shout-out goes to drummer Casey Deitz, who was fast and furious from beginning to end. The Velvet Teen’s lead singer is your average skinny, black-jeaned hipster, but he puts great intensity into his songs and commands the stage with well-honed confidence. Judah Nagler didn’t pander for any audience response, but The Velvet Teen’s set was by far the most interactive. There was jumping, there was awkward dancing, and there was definitely some singing along. The latter is the most impressive, considering how hard it was to hear lyrics. The mostly male crowd seemed to swell for The Velvet Teen’s songs and then disappear quickly after they had finished, perhaps off to Flash Taco and beyond.
The third and final band of the evening was Say Hi, known in other circles as Say Hi to Your Mom. They inherited a sparse crowd,
but powered on anyway. Though he danced and jumped around onstage, Say Hi’s lead singer Eric Elbogen walked a fine line between dry humor and outright audience condescension.
“We love you!” shouted one fan up front.
“How can you love me?” answered Elbogen “You don’t know me.”
Well, obviously, but it’s a rock concert, okay? In many ways, Say Hi is the best of pop right now. “This is a song about dance-offs,” said Elbogen to introduce one song, and bless him, it really was. Snarkiness aside, if we’re to give out tiaras, Say Hi was the best of the night
From Santa Rosa, California, The Velvet Teen have been around for longer than your average rock start-up. When interviewing the drummer, Casey Deitz, he made it clear that he would only talk for a few minutes. From his short answers, it seems he would much rather be playing music than talking about music. “There’s more yelling requests,” he said of Chicago audiences, “Throughout, there’s just lots of yelling. It’s aggravating.” When asked about influences, he cited friends and “good people.” “We like that there’s people here,” he said of the crowd, without a whisper of false modesty. “It’s nice being recognized.” Patrick Marsceill from the A-Sides, privy to our chat by the T-shirt booth, added that Deitz has his own youTube groupie who imitates his drumming. Rather than revel in this highest form of flattery, Deitz shifted uncomfortably, obviously no genius at self-promotion. A quick search proves that indeed, the fan’s name is Chris Fox, and he has posted three sincere covers of Velvet Teen songs. Marsceill doesn’t seem as enamored of his own band’s groupies. “It’s kind of upsetting, actually,” he reminisces. “We had a bad experience in Florida. They kidnapped our keyboard player.”
When asked about goals for the future, Deitz replied: “To just keep doing more of the same.” Marsceill added pragmatically, “And to not have a day job.” John Barthmus, A-Sides singer, imagines the future a bit bigger: “To tour Japan and play the Conan O’Brien Show.” He laughs, “We were watching him a lot when we got started.”