November 20, 2007

The Note cards hard, but Hopewell rocks harder

When I was younger and dumber, I imagined that it would be pretty cool to be asked to hang out with a band on their tour bus. Sneaking into the ubiquitous over-18 venues where our favorite angst-ridden rockers headlined, my friends and I made no secret of wishing to get noticed by the band. Of course, we never were.

Fast forward to last Saturday. For the first time ever, I was invited to hang out on a band’s ride. Granted, it wasn’t a tour bus but a 1993 GMC Safari van. And my friend and I weren’t quite invited to hang out with the members of Hopewell, but to stay warm in the van while they performed inside The Note, a dimly-lit Wicker Park dive that takes its ID policy very seriously.

Which brings me to another first: At age 23, older, wiser, and without my driver’s license, I found myself denied entry to a concert for the first time. No amount of begging, canoodling, or reasoning could get me in. I guess I’ll never be the successful rule-bender that I was at 16.

Between being kicked to the rather cold curb and realizing that my sneakiness is past its prime, I was having an awful night—until I discovered that the members of Hopewell are as nice as they are talented.

Before huddling on the curb for a shivering impromptu interview, they even pleaded with the ticket-takers to let me in. No luck. But the sound from the sidewalk, albeit a little muffled, was surprisingly good.

And for those who haven’t heard Hopewell, so are their recordings. Combining searing, heartfelt lyrics with sweeping instrumentals and the lush vocals of Jason Russo, Hopewell is the best modern rock band yet to break into mainstream prominence.

Their sound is hard to categorize, a fact that Russo, the band’s founder and frontman, credits with the difficulty they’ve had marketing themselves. Inspired by influences ranging from Don Delillo and Samuel Beckett to Paul McCartney, according to Russo and bassist Rich Meyer, Hopewell crosses musical genres with songs ranging from the sweetly melodic to harsher and more rock-infused anthems.

Saturday’s set was composed mainly of songs from the band’s newest album, Beautiful Targets.

Taking the stage seconds after being called in from the cold, the band started big and kept rocking. Even the most slow-paced ballads on the album swelled with energy, thanks in no small part to the revved-up tempo set by drummer Jay Green.

I discovered that the worst part of being denied entrance to a concert is neither the chill of the outdoors nor the embarrassment of leering hipsters; it’s missing out on the sure-to-be-awesome stage presence of a band that had their audience entranced from the first note they played.

Toward the end of the show, inspired by the band members’ stories of sneaking across the Canadian border to perform without a work permit and rallied by the a heavy dose of great rock, my friend and I embarked on one last effort to get in.

Members of the stage crew carrying out the opening act’s equipment were more than willing to let us in the back entrance of the venue, and we found ourselves with an unobstructed view of Hopewell in all their glory.

Though the crowd was sparse and the acoustics were wanting, for one song, the band was even better onstage than we had imagined from the sidewalk. We were almost immediately spotted by one of The Note’s ticket-takers and therefore made a quick exit from whence we came, but Hopewell is the kind of band that makes one song worth a night spent in the cold. Pretty impressive for a band that claims that back when they started, they partied so hard that they didn’t really expect to be alive today. I guess there is something to be said for working hard and playing hard, at least for this band.