January 13, 2004

Health&Beauty: The biggest thing out of Hyde Park since Yum-Yum?

The other day I saw what was left of rock 'n' roll crawl under the solid-state amp of a 13-year-old screamer from Idaho. He didn't even wave goodbye, the apparition of a once-angry god of leather, rebellion, and noise! Whatever happened to rockers who rock with unapologetically gritty fa├žade and inevitably dented and battered guitars, not stifled by the monolithic edifice of radio rock? What happened to the ear-piercing thrash machines and easy listening smoothtastic cheese, wafting through expensive car audio fabricated at the expense of Indonesians' youth? Does anyone really care? Fuck you, Chicago.

Enter the Metro, bastion of Chicago's Independent Rock wherein the last vestiges of raw, devil-may-care guitar music refuse to be swept into monotone nothingness. For sure.

Health&Beauty started slow, easing into this new environment. They landed on their tiptoes upon the stage of the venerated Metro. With only three shows under their belt, the band members still seemed unaccustomed to an audience ready to listen and hear. Burning off their pre-stage sweat as they slowly worked their way through "All Consumers Go to Heaven," "Saturnalia," and "Animalia," they reached the climax of the show with "Dust." The phonetone electronic bend of the recording was stripped away onstage, a pelvic engine of overpowering obscurity churning rock into eardrums long in need, in my opinion, of a good fuck. The layers of guitar, distorted for the first time in a long time with an unblinking eye on tone, nodded to the beams of the aged and ear-plugged building that sought, night after night, the soiled dream of fine rock 'n' roll. After quieting down a bit in the filler following "Dust," the band pushed back at the audience in their last foray of the evening, "Dust-Free World," a track off their forthcoming album and a solid example of the band's desire for experimentation in the lush possibilities of noise.

At the Metro, Health&Beauty fought for sound in a manner few bother with these days. The uncomfortable friction of boundaries sends most music to the steady center of popular, resulting in a desperate attempt to look cool by playing a PRS guitar in front of a gargantuan Ford F-150 Marshall stack. What most fail to realize is that rock is not about looking cool. Rock is being cool. Fawned at by teenagers, dripped upon by groupies, cool is the distorted and dissonant harmony of grind and attitude that lies heart-and-center in rock 'n' roll. Too little music breathes today about which you can truly say, "That was something. That was cool." After seeing Health&Beauty at the Metro, I can comfortably say: they're not there yet, but they will be.